Aim: To document the change in the incidence of respiratory distress (RD), related interventions and mortality in neonates admitted to primary, secondary and tertiary neonatal units within a geographically defined population over a period of 30 years.
Methods: RD was defined as a clinical picture irrespective of the etiology. Information was collected retrospectively for 1974, 1984, 1994 and 2004 from all neonatal units in Switzerland.
Results: In the 30 years studied the proportion of infants hospitalized with RD increased from 1.9% to 3.8% of the whole neonatal population and from 30% to 53% of all infants admitted to a neonatal unit. Treatment of RD changed significantly. Mechanical ventilation decreased from 31% to 16%, nasal CPAP increased from almost 0% to 26% and surfactant administration increased from 0% to 53% in infants with hyaline membrane disease. Overall mortality decreased in infants with RD from 15.5% to 3.5%.
Conclusions: The incidence of RD in infants admitted to neonatal units doubled over the last 30 years in a geographically defined neonatal population. This rise can predominantly be ascribed to infants with birth weight >2500 g and may reflect the corresponding increase in the rate of caesarean section.