Background: It was the aim of this study to assess whether very-low-birth-weight (VLBW) infants born small for gestational age (SGA; birth weight less than 10th percentile) are at increased risk for late-onset sepsis.
Methods: This was a prospective, multicenter study of the German Neonatal Network including VLBW infants from 23 to < 32 weeks post menstrual age born 2009-2011. Outcomes were compared between VLBW infants born SGA (birth weight less than tenth percentile according to gestational age and gender) and non-SGA infants. The main outcome measure was at least 1 episode of late-onset sepsis defined as blood-culture-confirmed clinical sepsis occurring at ≥ 72 hours of age.
Results: 5886 VLBW infants were included. In SGA infants (n = 692), an increased incidence of late-onset sepsis was noted compared with non-SGA infants (20.1% vs. 14.3 %, P < 0.001). This difference was only observed among infants with a gestational age of 27 to < 32 weeks and attributed to sepsis episodes with coagulase-negative staphylococci (12.8% vs. 8.3%, P < 0.001). Different treatment modalities (eg more frequent use of central venous lines) and longer duration of invasive therapies (parenteral nutrition, mechanical ventilation, hospitalization) may account for the increased sepsis risk with coagulase-negative staphylococci in our SGA cohort. In a multivariate logistic regression analysis, higher gestational age [per week; odds ratio (OR): 0.75, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.72-0.78, P< 0.0001], treatment with antenatal steroids (OR: 0.7, 95% CI: 0.53-0.92, P = 0.01), German descendance (OR: 0.76, 95% CI: 0.63-0.91, P = 0.003) and prophylaxis with glycopeptide antibiotics (OR: 0.64, 95% CI: 0.47-0.87, P = 0.005) were shown to be protective against late-onset sepsis. In contrast, longer duration of parenteral nutrition (per day; OR: 1.016, 95% CI: 1.011-1.021, P < 0.0001) and SGA were found to be risk factors (OR: 1.31, 95% CI: 1.02-1.68, P= 0.03).
Conclusions: SGA contributes to the risk of late-onset sepsis in VLBW infants. Future studies are needed to investigate the underlying pathophysiology to guide individualized preventive measures in this vulnerable subgroup.