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Ann Periodontol. 2001 Dec;6(1):153-63.

The relationship between infections and adverse pregnancy outcomes: an overview.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Colorado Health Science Center, Denver, Colorado, USA.


Preterm birth with its subsequent morbidity and mortality is the leading perinatal problem in the United States. Infants born before the thirty-seventh week of gestation account for approximately 6% to 9% of all births, but 70% of all perinatal deaths and half of all long-term neurologic morbidity. Current approaches focus on symptomatic treatment. Despite widespread use of drugs to arrest preterm labor (tocolytics), there has been no decrease in low birth weight or preterm infants in the last 20 years. It is likely that therapy directed at preventing or treating underlying causes would be more successful. Evidence from many sources links preterm birth to symptomatic infections, for example, of the urinary or respiratory tracts. In the last decade, great interest has been generated to support the hypothesis that subclinical infection is an important cause of preterm labor. Evidence to support this may be categorized as follows: histological chorioamnionitis is increased in preterm births; clinical infection is increased after preterm birth; there is significant association of some lower genital tract organisms and infections with preterm birth or preterm premature rupture of the membranes; there are positive cultures of amniotic fluid or membranes from some patients with preterm labor and preterm birth; there are markers of infections in preterm birth; bacteria or their products induce preterm birth in animal models; and some antibiotic trials have shown a lower rate of preterm birth or have deferred preterm birth. In the last 5 years, additional exciting information has suggested that not only is subclinical infection responsible for preterm birth but also many serious neonatal sequelae including periventricular leukomalacia, cerebral palsy, respiratory distress, and even bronchopulmonary dysplasia and necrotizing enterocolitis. In sum, a large body of clinical and laboratory information suggests that subclinical infection is a major cause of preterm birth, especially those occurring before 30 weeks. This concept holds promise that new approaches can be developed to prevent prematurity.

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