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Background. Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) occurs in approximately 5% of babies born through meconium-stained amniotic fluid. Risk factors associated with severity of MAS in neonates from developing countries has been infrequently described.
Objective. To identify incidence and risk factors associated with the severity of MAS in a lower middle-income country.
Method. A retrospective descriptive analysis was conducted on records of neonates diagnosed with MAS at four regional hospitals in the eThekwini district of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2017.
Results. A total of 187 neonates had been diagnosed with MAS, of whom 157 survived. The overall incidence of MAS was 2 per 1 000 live births. All the neonates were born through thick meconium. The majority (n=119, 63.6%) of patients were male. Asphyxia was documented in 97 cases (51.9%) and was significantly associated with severe disease (p<0.001). Seizures were noted in 91patients (48.7%), of which 86 (94.5%) occurred in neonates with asphyxia. A quarter of the sample (n=47, 25%) were outborn, with severe disease associated significantly with this group (p=0.025). Multiple logistic regression showed that the occurrence of seizures was significantly associated with severe MAS, (adjusted odds ratio = 23.7, 95% confidence interval 7.58 - 97.7; p<0.001).
Conclusion. Neonates born through thick meconium, with moderate to severe asphyxia that is associated with seizures are at increased risk of developing severe MAS. Close monitoring of labour in the intrapartum period, early recognition of fetal distress and timely obstetric intervention are crucial to prevent asphyxia.