Last updated: June 01. 2013 12:21PM - 176 Views
Keith Strange
Heartland News Service

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County health officials say infant death rates have been cut in half over the past decade, a trend that mimics statewide numbers.

And local numbers can be credited to education and proper prenatal care, they say.

Five children aged one or under died in 2010, while last year seven infants died in the county, according to Jeanna Read, assistant health director for the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center.

While last year’s numbers were up slightly, Read notes that one of those deaths can be attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), five were the result of pre-term deliveries and one was caused by birth defects.

“Overall, we’ve seen a significant decrease over the past decade or so,” Read said. “There has been a huge reduction in infant mortality in Surry County.”

Tiffany Bullins, care management director for the health department, credits education with the improved rates.

“What we’ve done first of all is implement a program called Pregnancy Care Management, which focuses on high-risk pregnant women,” she said.

Through the program, mothers-to-be receive a great deal of support and education throughout their pregnancy, support which continues until the children are two months old.

“We want to make sure these women get the prenatal care they need as well as post-partum support after delivery,” Bullins said.

In addition, the health department offers post-partum newborn nurses who conduct home visits to care for both the infants and their mothers.

“During those visits, the nurses conduct an assessment on both mom and the baby, and offer a lot of education regarding SIDS and infant care,” she said.

The county also has a Child Fatality Prevention Team, a state-mandated group who work to identify trends related to infant mortality.

“They look for things that stand out as an ongoing problem, or a systemic failure where death could be prevented,” Read said. “We’ve noticed that most of our child deaths are infants, so we’ve also created in Infant Mortality Task Force that look for safety issues related to newborns.”

Read said the county is pleased with what she called a “real downward trend” in the number of infant deaths that can be attributed to SIDS.

“Those numbers have dropped 50 percent since 1998,” she said.

Local Numbers Parallel State

The Surry County numbers also mimic state figures, released earlier this week.

Those numbers show that childhood deaths from birth to age 18 are the lowest on record, having been cut in half over the past two decades.

Official figures gathered by the State Center for Health Statistics and the Child Fatality Prevention Team Research Staff showed a rate of 57.4 deaths per 100,000 children from birth through 17 years of age, compared to 57.5 deaths per 100,000 children in 2010 and 67.0 deaths per 100,000 children in 2009.

When North Carolina developed the Child Fatality Prevention System in 1990, the rate exceeded 100 deaths per 100,000 children.

Karen McLeod, co-chair of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, echoed local officials in noting that education is key.

“Prevention is prevention is prevention,” she said. “Each child death is just the tip of the iceberg, representing hundreds if not thousands of injuries or other undesirable results. The same strategies that reduce child death help prevent poor birth outcomes, broken homes and violence against and by children.”

Highlights of the state study include:

• The 2011 death rate of 57.4 deaths per 100,000 children is the lowest recorded rate. It represents a decline of 46 percent since 1991, when the Child Fatality Prevention System was put in place.

• Poisoning is the fastest growing cause of child death. The majority of these deaths are to older adolescents, aged 15-17.

The increase is due mainly to misuse of prescription drugs and consistent with national trends. In the 1990s, it was unusual to record more than three teen poisoning deaths a year. Now, fewer than 10 in one year is unusual. Efforts such as Operation Medicine Drop, effective use of the Controlled Substance Reporting System, and other policy initiatives can help reduce misuse of prescription drugs.

• While the infant mortality rate remains near its historic low in 2010, infants under age one comprise about two-thirds of all child deaths. Birth defects were also the cause of seven percent of deaths to children over age one last year.

• Illness is a major cause of death, accounting for 19 percent of child deaths in 2011. Illness is the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 14.

• Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury death for children.

• The number of drowning deaths which had been unusually high in 2010 declined to more typical levels in 2011. This is on the heels of increased water safety efforts by Safe Kids NC and others.

Elizabeth Hudgins, executive director of the state’s task force, said it is important to continue to work to reduce the numbers further.

“Growing the prosperity of our state depends on assuring that our next generation grows up healthy, safe and strong,” she said. “Maintaining the lowest child death rate on record shows the value of focused public policies and sustained and strategic investments for improving outcomes for our children. Knitting together a variety of evidence-informed policies has effects across the spectrum to prevent child death and promote well-being,”

Reach Keith Strange at kstrange@heartlandpublications.com or 719-1929.

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