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Maternal fever during labor--what does it mean?

BACKGROUND: Several studies have shown maternal fever to be associated with chorioamnionitis and neonatal sepsis if at least two of the following five criteria are also present: maternal tachycardia, purulent or foul-smelling amniotic fluid, fetal tachycardia, uterine tenderness, or maternal leukocytosis. Less is known about the risk of neonatal sepsis when the presence of maternal fever in labor is the only criterion.

METHODS: A retrospective medical record review searching for women who had a fever greater than 100.4 degrees F while in the active phase of labor during a 1-year period at the University of Michigan was undertaken to investigate the relation between isolated maternal fever in labor and neonatal sepsis. Eighty-two cases of maternal fever were found.

RESULTS: Forty-six women met the clinical criteria for chorioamnionitis, and 6 of the 7 neonates with sepsis diagnosed were born to these mothers. There were no significant differences found in admission or intrapartum factors between women who did and did not meet clinical criteria for chorioamnionitis, and there was no association between these factors and neonatal sepsis. Epidural anesthesia was administered to 91 percent of these women and might be associated with maternal fever during labor. Using maternal clinical criteria for chorioamnionitis and a neonatal band cell-total neutrophil ratio of 0.2 or greater instead of the current system to determine the need for newborn antibiotic administration would improve the positive predictive value (12.5 percent versus 9.3 percent) and specificity (34.6 percent versus 16 percent) without compromising sensitivity (100 percent). All septic and probably septic newborns would be treated, and neonatal antibiotic administration would be reduced by 17 percent.

CONCLUSIONS: The addition of the maternal clinical criteria for chorioamnionitis to the criteria already used for diagnosing and treating neonatal sepsis could prove useful in decisions regarding the selective administration of intrapartum antibiotics and prediction of risk of neonatal sepsis.

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