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Sentinel Event Alert, Issue 18: Kernicterus threatens healthy newborns

April 1, 2001

sea 31 kernicterusKernicterus is a condition of newborns that leads to severely disabling brain damage or death. It results from hyperbilirubinemia that can be caused by a number of factors. Kernicterus is preventable with techniques currently available. Nevertheless, in recent years cases of kernicterus have continued to be reported. One registry includes 90 cases in the United States from 1984 to the present in which three of the newborns died and all others sustained brain damage.  "This is probably happening more than clinicians know about," says Sue Sheridan, spokesperson for the advocacy, educational and support group PICK, Parents of Infants and Children with Kernicterus. "With these recent cases, risk assessments were inadequate and unreliable, and bilirubin levels were not measured--or measured in time." PICK has been instrumental in drawing attention to the reemergence of kernicterus and its prevention.