A major cause of premature birth, thinning membranes around the baby that eventually tear, may be caused by specific bacteria according to new research.

Early rupture of membranes, also known as PROM (Premature Rupture of Membranes), causes almost a third of all premature births. Researchers at Duke University School of Medicine have found high numbers of bacteria at the site where membranes rupture, which are linked with the thinning of membranes.

If the bacteria are the cause rather than the consequence of early membrane rupture, it may be possible to develop new treatments or screen for women at risk, they say.

Study author Amy Murtha, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine, said: “For instance, if we think that certain bacteria are associated with premature rupturing of the membranes, we can screen for this bacteria early in pregnancy.”

“We then might be able to treat affected women with antibiotics and reduce their risk for PROM. Our research is several steps away from this, but it gives us opportunities to explore potential targeted therapeutic interventions, which we lack in obstetrics.”

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