One of the things parents fear is that their baby might be born with cerebral palsy. That’s brain damage usually in pregnancy for various causes including prematurity, maternal infection, serious newborn illness, birth trauma and unknown causes. The result can be a child with movement and developmental problems and sometimes intellectual delay.
Australia has some of the world’s best data on babies diagnosed with cerebral palsy through a national registry and their latest report has some incredibly good news.
The rate of cerebral palsy in children up to age 5 has fallen by 30 per cent over the last ten years or so.
The reasons are complex. The care of preterm babies has improved and as their survival has increased, the rate of brain damage has fallen. In some states (for example WA) even the rate of preterm birth itself has fallen as preventive measures have been put in place.
With pool fencing, baby car seats and of the safety regulations, brain injury after birth seems to have dropped too. What’s also good news is that not only is the rate of cerebral palsy falling, but the severity of the condition in those who have it is also dropping.
The one area which needs further advances is maternal infection with cytomegalovirus (CMV) which is known to be neurotoxic. In healthy people, it causes an illness similar to the flu, but for pregnant women, it’s a very dangerous infection. The next big vaccine advance will be a CMV vaccine but we’re still waiting.