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Infant mortality rate down in Washington County

August 23, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The infant mortality rate for Washington County fell dramatically last year, reversing a two-year trend, according to County Health Officer Robert Parker.

Parker, a physician, said Friday the rate for 1996 dropped to 3.8 deaths per 1,000 live births before the infants' first birthday.

The rate in 1994 and 1995 was 10.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, and in 1991 through 1993 was 6.9 deaths per 1,000.

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The drop in the rate from 10.1 to 3.8 means about 10 fewer dead infants a year.

Parker said with such a small sample - only six deaths in 1996 - it's hard to tell what caused the drop.

"We can breathe a little easier," Parker said. "I'm still concerned as to how we can get the infant mortality rates lower in Washington County on a permanent basis. I don't think we should let down our guard."

Parker said a review team will start meeting this fall to examine all infant deaths and determine which ones were preventable and what measures can be taken to prevent similar deaths in the future.

One consistent problem in the county has been Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Parker said. But only one of the six deaths last year was a SIDS death.

Efforts to get parents to have their infants sleep on their back have clearly helped nationwide, Parker said.

The county also has launched a number of programs to help pregnant women and parents with newborns.

Under the Healthy Start program, county nurses make housecalls to pregnant women who are on medical assistance or referred by doctors.

In the past 30 years, the county's infant mortality rate has declined fairly steadily, with occasional upward blips from year to year, Parker said.

About 1,500 babies are born to county residents in any one year, Parker said. Fifteen infants died in 1995.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the national rate was 7.5 per 1,000 in 1995, down from 7.9 in 1994 and 8.3 in 1993. The national data is preliminary.

In Washington County, pregnant women who want help can call the county health department at 301-791-3229.

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