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Number of premies nears historic half million mark in US

Nearly a half million American babies were born prematurely in a single year, according to a government report issued today, putting them at increased risk for death and disability.

Some 12.3 percent of all babies – 499,008 infants — were born prematurely (less than 37 weeks gestation) in 2003, according to the report released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). That’s up from 12.1 percent (or about 480,000 babies) in 2002 – and an increase of more than 30 percent since the government began tracking premature births in 1981. The prematurity rate was 9.4 in 1981; it has increased every year since then except for slight dips in 1992 and 2000.

“Prematurity is the number one killer of newborns. We see from these latest statistics that the prematurity crisis in this country continues to intensify, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will only make it worse, ” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “Babies are dying and those who survive are too often left with devastating consequences – such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems and blindness.”

The March of Dimes began its multi-year campaign to address the growing rate of premature birth in 2003. The campaign educates women on the signs and symptoms of premature birth, and supports more research into the causes of premature labor. One of the goals of the campaign is to help the nation reach the goal set by the U.S. Public Health Service of reducing the rate of premature birth to 7.6 percent by 2010.



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