A new trend is emerging in newborn health care that has experts worried. A growing number of children are being seen for a condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding — or VKDB. It's a disorder that occurs because most newborns do not have enough vitamin K, which is a natural blood coagulant, in their systems to stop bleeding once it starts. VKDB is very rare, but it is also entirely preventable with an injectable dose of vitamin K at birth — a dose that an increasing number of parents are forgoing over fears that health experts believe stem from misinformation over vaccines and toxins.
In 1961, the American Academy of Physicians began recommending that all newborns receive an intramuscular shot of vitamin K at birth to prevent the possibility of VKDB. Most infants have low levels of vitamin K at birth and breastfed babies in particular are more susceptible to continued deficiency (many infant formulas are fortified with the vitamin.) So doctors gave babies the shot and the disorder all but went away. That is until recently, when a trend emerged of parents passing on the injection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infants who do not receive a vitamin K injection have an 81 times greater chance of developing VKDB than those who do receive the shot. And while the disorder is still quite rare — between 4.4 and 7.2 infants out of every 100,000 — doctors are perplexed that it occurs at all when the vitamin K injection is a fail-safe preventative with little to no side effects.
Parents whose babies did develop VKDB were interviewed by the CDC about their choice to skip the injection. "Reasons included concern about an increased risk for leukemia when vitamin K is administered, an impression that the injection was unnecessary, and a desire to minimize the newborn's exposure to 'toxins,'" observes a CDC report. The CDC noted that there is no scientific evidence linking the vitamin K injection to leukemia, yet rumors — and ethically questionable Internet information — persist.
Last year, seven babies — whose ages ranged between 7 and 20 weeks old — were admitted to Vanderbilt University's Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital with VKDB. Those numbers are leading health experts to fear that this disorder that was once thought to be very rare might now be on the rise.
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