Public health issues related to infection in pregnancy and cerebral palsy

Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2002;8(1):39-45. doi: 10.1002/mrdd.10011.


Cerebral palsy is the most common neuromotor developmental disability of childhood, affecting as many as 8,000 to 12,000 children born in the U.S. each year (corresponding to a prevalence rate of between 2 and 3 per 1000 children). Recent improvements in neonatal care have not resulted in a decline in the overall prevalence of cerebral palsy and, in fact, greater numbers of very preterm/very low birth weight infants are surviving with cerebral palsy and other developmental problems. Infection in pregnancy may be an important cause of the disorder. In preterm infants, there appears to be about a 2-fold increased risk for cerebral palsy from chorioamnionitis, and in term infants the estimated increased risk is about 4-fold. Provisionally, chorioamnionitis might account for 12% of spastic cerebral palsy in term infants and 28% of cerebral palsy in preterm infants. Studies of biochemical markers of fetal inflammation typically associated with infection also suggest that an inflammatory response may be an important independent etiologic factor. If a substantial proportion of cerebral palsy is attributable to acute amnionitis infection and/or neonatal sepsis, cerebral palsy should have decreased in the United States after administration of intrapartum antibiotics became widespread in response to publication of public health consensus guidelines for Group B streptococcus in 1996. However, failure to detect declines could have a number of explanations and these explanations illustrate the many public health challenges related to intrauterine infection and cerebral palsy. Given the gaps in our current knowledge about intrauterine infection and cerebral palsy, public health recommendations for timely and specific prevention activities are limited at this time.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cerebral Palsy / epidemiology*
  • Cerebral Palsy / prevention & control
  • Child Health Services
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health Practice
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents