MU researchers find predictor of disease that affects preemies

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COLUMBIA - MU researchers have discovered the early presence of white blood cells is a predictor of a life threatening disease that affects premature infants.

The white blood cells, which can have tell-tale orange spots, are found in cases of Necrotizing Enterocolitis, which is a major gastrointestinal disease that causes intestinal tissue to die.

Dr. Michael Sherman of the University of Missouri said the disease is caused by a number of different factors, but breastfeeding does help reduce occurances. 

"Breastfeeding certainly may diminish the intensity of the disease or even prevent it," he said. 

The disease can require surgery and has a 50 percent death rate. Sherman said there are a substantial number of cases and it the rate of occurance can depend on the baby's weight.

"It occurs in about 5 to 15 percent of premature infants below about 3 and a half pounds, so it is pretty common," he said.  

Sherman said it is rare for affected infants to start having symptoms while inside the mother, and it is more common after they are born. 

"Usually this disease starts at 2 to 3 weeks after birth and up to 6 weeks," he said.

Sherman wants doctors to know that there is a simple test mothers can undergo to get an idea of what is going to happen to their baby if they are born prematurely. 

The study was conducted within the Missouri school of medicine and the Sinclar school of nursing.