Kernicterus: epidemiological strategies for its prevention through systems-based approaches

J Perinatol. 2004 Oct;24(10):650-62. doi: 10.1038/


Kernicterus, thought to be due to severe hyperbilirubinemia, is an uncommon disorder with tragic consequences, especially when it affects healthy term and near-term infants. Early identification, prevention and treatment of severe hyperbilirubinemia should make kernicterus a preventable disease. However, national epidemiologic data are needed to monitor any preventive strategies. Recommendations are provided to obtain prospective data on the prevalence and incidence of severe hyperbilirubinemia and associate mortality and neurologic injury using standardized definitions, explore the clinical characteristics and root causes of kernicterus in children identified in the Kernicterus Pilot Registry, identify and test an indicator for population surveillance, validating systems-based approaches to the management of newborn jaundice, and explore the feasibility of using biologic or genetic markers to identify infants at risk for hyperbilirubinemia. Increased knowledge about the incidence and consequences of severe hyperbilirubinemia is essential to the planning, implementation and assessment of interventions to ensure that infants discharged as healthy from their birth hospitals have a safer transition to home, avoiding morbidity due to hyperbilirubinemia and other disorders. At a recent NIHCD-sponsored conference, key questions were raised about kernicterus and the need for additional strategies for its prevention. These questions and an approach to their answers form the basis of this report.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hyperbilirubinemia / diagnosis
  • Hyperbilirubinemia / epidemiology
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Jaundice, Neonatal / diagnosis
  • Jaundice, Neonatal / epidemiology
  • Kernicterus / diagnosis
  • Kernicterus / epidemiology*
  • Kernicterus / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Neonatal Screening
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Public Health
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology