Scientists have taken a big step toward developing an earlier, safer and simple test that could help prevent perhaps 175,000 premature births in the United States each year.

Researchers say they have identified certain proteins in the blood that can indicate whether a pregnant woman has a uterine infection that can lead to premature birth. They hope the discovery will lead to development of a diagnostic blood test that would allow doctors to treat infected women with antibiotics earlier, in time to prevent premature delivery.

“This is potentially very important,” said Dr. Robert Goldenberg, an obstetrics/gynecology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who was not involved in the study.

Other doctors noted that the study involved only 33 women, and said further research is needed to confirm that the proteins are, in fact, a universal indicator of the infections.

Uterine infections typically arise from overgrowth of bacteria that normally live in the vagina. They frequently cause no symptoms in the mother until she goes into labor prematurely.

More here.