Classical acute bilirubin encephalopathy (kernicterus) in term and near-term infants had not been seen in Denmark for at least 20 y until 1994. From 1994 to 1998. however, six cases were diagnosed. Aetiology of the hyperbilirubinaemia was known in two infants; spherocytosis and galactosaemia, most likely known in two infants; possible A-O blood type immunization, and unknown in two infants. However, one of these last-mentioned infants had a gestational age of only 36 wk. The maximum plasma total bilirubin concentrations were 531-745 micromol/L. The increase in the number of cases of kernicterus was considered to have been caused by: (i) a decreased awareness of the pathological signs, (ii) a change in the assessment of the risk of bilirubin encephalopathy, (iii) early discharge of the infants from the maternity ward, (iv) so-called breastfeeding-associated jaundice, (v) demonstration of bilirubin being an antioxidant, and (vi) difficulty in estimating the degree of jaundice in certain groups of immigrants. Accordingly, for prevention: (a) Attempt to change the healthcare workers' understanding of the risk of bilirubin encephalopathy, (b) give further instructions, both orally and in writing, to mothers before discharge from the maternity ward, (c) be more liberal in giving infant formula supplements, (d) conduct home visits by the community nurse at an earlier stage, (e) follow authorized guidelines for phototherapy and exchange transfusion, (f) lower plasma bilirubin concentration limits as an indication for phototherapy and exchange transfusion, (g) screen all term and near-term infants, and (h) measure the skin's yellow colour with a device that corrects for the skin's melanin content.
Conclusions: Audit of the six cases presented indicates that measures are necessary in both the primary and secondary healthcare sectors if the risk of kemicterus is to be avoided. Screening may be considered, but in order to identify the problems it would first be reasonable to perform a larger prospective study in which audit is performed on all newborn infants, born at term and near-term, who develop a plasma bilirubin concentration above the exchange transfusion limit.