The Center for Disease Control and Preventing (CDC) has reported that four infants were diagnosed with late vitamin K deficiency bleeding in Nashville, Tennenssee between February and September of 2013. All babies were healthy and developing normally until reaching the age of six to 15 weeks when each baby suddenly began to bleed internally. After the Tennessee Department of Health initiated an investigation with the CDC, they found the cause to be that the parents had all declined the usual vitamin K shot for their babies. All four babies survived but 3 may have neurologically damage in the future.
Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) is a rare bleeding disorder that occurs in early infancy. Although it is potentially life-threatening, VKDB is easily prevented by administering small doses of vitamin K at birth. Vitamin K is known as the “clotting vitamin” because blood would not clot without it. In adults, vitamin K is absorbed from food, and is synthesized by gut bacteria. Because this vitamin does not easily transfer through the placenta, stores within an infant’s body are low at birth. Also, human breast milk does not contain high enough quantities of the vitamin, placing infants at risk for VKDB.
In the U.S., an intramuscular shot of vitamin K at birth has been standard practice since 1961. This practice is also standard in most Western countries. Without this prophylaxis, incidence of early and classical VKDB amounts to about 1.7 percent of births. But the relative risk for developing late VKDB is estimated to be 81 times greater among infants who do not receive the shot when compared to infants who do.
What the Study Suggested to Providers
When parents of the 4 babies were asked “Why did you decline a vitamin K shot for your newborn?,” they answered that they were concerned about an increased risk for leukemia, an impression that the shot was unnecessary, and a desire to minimize the baby’s exposure to toxins. A 1992 report linked vitamin K injections with childhood cancer, yet these findings have never been replicated in other studies. The study by Tennessee Department of Health and the CDC concluded that the reasons behind giving an infant supplemental Vitamin K must be made more clear before the whirlwind moments following birth so that parents can make an informed choice.
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