Research conducted by doctors at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that newborns and preemies could suffer adverse effects from the DEHP found in the medical devices used to treat them.
DEHP (or di 2-ethylhexyl phthalate) is used in virtually any flexible plastic used as medical device, from catheters to endotracheal tubes, blood products bags and intravenous tubing. The report published by researchers from Johns Hopkins University suggests that the chemicals are not only endocrine disruptors, they could also cause liver injuries and interfere with lung, brain and eye development, especially when preemies are exposed to high quantities of the substance.
Medical devices are usually composed of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which in turn contains the chemical.
“The role of these synthetic materials in the clinical course of our patients remains almost completely unexplored. PVC is the predominant flexible plastic in most NICUs, and this can result in considerable DEHP exposures during intensive care.”
said neonatologist and senior research program coordinator at Johns Hopkins University, Eric B. Mallow.
Because the substance isn’t chemically bound to PVC, it is free to contaminate those it comes in contact with. In their research, ill preterm patients were found to have been exposed to levels of DEHP between 4,000 and 160,000 times higher than what is normally considered to be safe. According to the team’s calculations, a critically ill preemie could be exposed to about 16 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.
“It’s remarkable that the care of sick and developmentally vulnerable preterm infants depends on an environment composed almost entirely of plastic,”
Previously published studies were first reviewed by the team of researchers. They then found that the most likely and largest source of exposure was found in blood product bags and endotracheal tubes.
“DEHP and other phthalates are proinflammatory, and most of the injuries that preemies get are inflammatory in nature,”
the study said, while not suggesting that DEHP had caused the complications that preemies experienced.
Mary A. Fox, co-investigator, explains that doctors could attempt to make tradeoffs in their efforts of saving these babies.
“But can we save them by using alternative products that reduce their exposures to substances that may be harming them? It seems like we could.”
The results were published on Thursday on the Journal of Perinatology.
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