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Probiotics might shield newborns from sepsis, study says

Ben Schmitt
| Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
Newborn at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Newborn at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Researchers might have found a new weapon to fight sepsis in newborns: probiotics.

Giving babies a certain form of probiotics reduces the risk that newborns will develop the deadly medical condition, scientists said in a new study.

Sepsis is a common complication that can occur when the body's immune system overreacts to an infection. More than 600,000 babies a year die of the blood infection.

A study published this week in the medical journal Nature indicates a strain of probiotic called Lactobacillus plantarum helped ward off sepsis. The trial took place with 4,000 babies in the United States and India.

Probiotic bacteria, known commonly as friendly bacteria, can help jump-start a baby's immune system , Dr. Pascal Lavoie, a neonatologist at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, told NPR.

“They can promote maturation of the immune system in a healthier way,” Lavoie said. “Probiotics can be much more powerful than drugs.”

The friendly bacteria reduce harmful bacteria in the baby's gut by changing the environment or simply using up resources, Lavoie said.

“It acts as a barrier to prevent the bad bacteria from going through the wall into the blood,” he said.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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