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Device increases babies' chance of surviving sepsis

October 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
One in four babies will develop sepsis. But by the time pediatricians spot it, it may already be advanced.

While sepsis can happen to anyone, it's especially dangerous for those with weak or developing immune systems, like newborn infants. Now there's a new device that's detecting infection and saving young lives.

Sepsis is a severe blood infection that can spread throughout the body.

"If we catch it late it can be very, very severe and even fatal," said neonatologist Dr. Karen Fairchild, University of Virginia Health System. "Once the baby shows signs of sepsis, they may already be very, very sick."

Doctors at the University of Virginia developed the HeRO (Heart Rate Observation) monitor to help detect subtle signs early.

"I really think this is revolutionary," said Dr. Fairchild.

Every hour the HeRO identifies changes in babies' heart rate patterns that happen early in sepsis. Then it creates a score from zero to seven.

"If your HeRO score is one, you have exactly the average risk of illness. If your HeRO score is two, you have twice the average risk," said cardiologist Dr. Randall Moorman, UVA Health System.

In a study of 3,000 infants, those on the HeRO monitor had their risk of death cut by 20 percent.

Researchers have been working on the HeRO monitor for more than 10 years and it's now being used in a handful of neonatal intensive care units around the country.


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