John Hopkins Researchers Propose New Strategy for Protecting NICU Babies from Parental Bacteria

For babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), contact with parents can be calming and promote good health. However, a parent’s touch can also increase their risk of contracting a potentially dangerous neonatal infection, such as Staphylococcus aureus. Newborn being held in hands

Researchers from John Hopkins Medicine (headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland) recently conducted a preliminary clinical trial on a new method of preventing transmission of S. aureus from parents to infants. Most procedures for preventing NICU infections focus on the hospital environment and staff. Aaron Milstone, M.D., first author on this study, told Science News that “Our study is among the first to focus on parents as a source of the bacteria and then test the effectiveness of an intervention to combat the problem” (1). 

The intervention Milstone and colleagues tested was the use of an intranasal antibiotic (mupirocin), as well as antiseptic wipes (containing chlorhexidine) to clean various parts of the body (1, 2).

Results and bottom line

Of the 190 infants who were included in the analysis, 38.9% were colonized* with S. aureus by 90 days, and 56.8% of these infants had a strain that matched the bacteria of their parents. In the control group (parents were given placebo versions of the intranasal spray and wipes), 28.7% of the babies acquired a strain of S. aureus that was likely transmitted from a parent; in the intervention group, only 14.6% did.  The intervention group also had a lower overall risk of S. aureus acquisition (2).

Milstone told Science News that their protocol “may significantly reduce the number of infants in the NICU who will get S. aureus from contact with a parent,” and that larger clinical trials are warranted (1). 

*Colonization means that the infants had S. aureus germs on their bodies. Not all of these infants will actually become infected.

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ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. This includes issues such as infection, oxygen deprivation, and trauma. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources. 

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  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, December 31). Trial suggests babies in intensive care can be better protected from parental bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 10, 2020 from 
  2. Milstone, A. M., Voskertchian, A., Koontz, D. W., Khamash, D. F., Ross, T., Aucott, S. W., … & Colantuoni, E. (2019). Effect of treating parents colonized with Staphylococcus aureus on transmission to neonates in the intensive care unit: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA

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