A new survey of hospital practices may make it more common for doctors to actively treat a baby born at 22 weeks, at least a week younger than the generally accepted standard for viability, reports the New York Times. The study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that hospitals that chose to treat babies at that age, rather than providing "comfort care" until they die, had at least limited success: Babies at 22 weeks did not survive without active treatment, but they had a survival rate of 23% if they received it. Of the 18 survivors, six had serious issues such as cerebral palsy, blindness, or deafness as toddlers. One of the major takeaways of the study is that hospitals vary widely in their preemie practices, with no real standard on what the treatment cutoff should be, reports the AP.
"It confirms that if you don't do anything, these babies will not make it, and if you do something, some of them will make it," the chief of neonatology at the University of Florida, who was not involved with the study, tells the Times. "Many who have survived have survived with severe handicaps." This is the first major assessment of preemie care, and while it shows that most 22-week-olds don't make it, the results could raise pressure on hospitals with a higher age for treatment cutoff to lower it. "The main message is that there's potential for more babies to survive without major or severe impairment at gestational ages that physicians once thought was impossible," a researcher from the University of Alabama at Birmingham tells AL.com.