Babies who are born early are at higher risk of having problems with their lungs and other organs and are at higher risk of death. Infections in the mother’s genital tract are a major cause of preterm birth. One type of infection, caused by the Ureaplasma bacteria, can lead to preterm labor by triggering inflammation within the womb. Researchers supported by the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch studied whether an antibiotic called azithromycin—either alone, or in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs—could cure Ureaplasma infection in pregnant monkeys and prevent preterm birth.
The researchers found that giving azithromycin to pregnant monkeys with Ureaplasma infections cleared the infection from the fetus and from the tissues inside the womb. The drug also prolonged the time until the mothers went into labor, and it reduced the fetal lung damage caused by the infection.
However, the treatment did not prevent preterm births. The monkeys with the treated infections were more likely to deliver prematurely than monkeys without infections. The researchers also found that the anti-inflammatory drugs did not seem to have any additional effect on inflammation in the womb (PMID: 23111115).