Background. Spina bifida (SB) is a neural tube defect (NTD) that has an increased risk of fatal and disabling effects if not repaired early, i.e. within the first 24 to 48 hours of life. Its diagnosis holds an increased burden for the patient and the caregiver owing to secondary complications. The effects of the disease are detrimental even with early repair, because of the long-term disabling nature of the disease.
Objective. This retrospective study aimed to assess the effects of demographics, immediate post-surgical complications and impact of time to surgical intervention on the outcome of neonates with open SB (OSB) admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (SA), between January 2011 and December 2015.
Methods. A retrospective chart review was conducted at the NICU of IALCH. All neonates diagnosed with SB were identified. The study period was from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2015. Data were collected from the IALCH electronic database. All neonates with SB admitted to the IALCH NICU were included; any patient who presented beyond the neonatal period (i.e. >28 days) was excluded from the study. Data collected included maternal demographics. Additionally, neonatal history was reviewed and post surgery complications evaluated. Outpatient management post discharge was reviewed.
Results. One hundred and fifty neonates were included (58% male). The mean (standard deviation) maternal age was 26.7 (6.6) years. Only 10% had an antenatal diagnosis of OSB. Seventy-eight percent were born at term and 22% prematurely. The lumbar/sacral region was the most commonly affected. More males (14%) had thoraco/lumbar lesions than females (7.8%). Forty-eight percent presented before 3 days of life (early presentation). In the late-presentation group, there was an association with wound sepsis (p=0.003). Twenty-five percent were repaired between days 0 and 3 of life and 75% after 3 days. Postoperative complications in patients whose open SBs were repaired beyond 3 days of life were not statistically significant compared with those with early repair; all were p>0.05. There was a borderline association of prolonged hospitalisation with wound sepsis (p=0.07). Long-term outcomes showed that 68% had lower limb dysfunction, 18% urological complications, 14% limb deformity, and 11% hydrocephalus. A minority had psychomotor (7%) and developmental (15%) disorders. Ten percent required readmission secondary to shunt complications, and 7% died.
Conclusion. SB remains a significant disease burden that affects outcome and survival of neonates in SA. Lack of good antenatal care, which includes early ultrasound and timely referral to centres, are barriers to good outcomes. Long-term follow-up is also necessary to prevent morbidity.