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FRIDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- In 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, about seven infants died for every 1,000 born in the United States, a 3% drop from 2005 and the lowest infant death rate since 1995, U.S health officials announced Friday.
Although the drop in infant mortality was significant, the United States still ranks near the bottom of 32 other industrialized countries when it comes to infant deaths, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
"Clearly the decline from 2005 to 2006 is significant and is good news," said lead report author T.J. Mathews, a demographer, at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
"An infant mortality rate at that level is still too high," he added. "Even at this rate, our ranking in the world will probably remain 28th."
In 2006, the infant mortality rate was 6.68 deaths per 1,000 births -- a 3% drop from the 6.86 level seen in 2005. In 1995 the infant mortality rate was 7.57 deaths per 1,000 births, Mathews said.
However, "a point that is just critical in the U.S. are the huge disparities that affect mortality in this country," he added.
For example, race and ethnicity mattered. The NCHS said the infant death rate ranged from a low of 4.52 per 1,000 births for mothers of Central and South American descent, to a high of 13.35 deaths per 1,000 for babies born to black mothers.
Among white women the infant mortality rate was 5.73 deaths per 1,000 births.
The mortality rates were higher for women who were born in the United States, were unmarried or who had multiple deliveries, according to the report. Infant deaths were also higher for boys and preterm and low birth weight infants.
In 2006, the death rate among neonates remained basically the same as in 2005 (4.46 versus 4.54). However, the post-neonatal death rate dropped 4%, from 2.32 in 2005 to 2.22 in 2006, Mathews said.
Infant deaths in the United States are largely driven by premature and low birth weight deliveries, he added. In fact, in 2006, 54% of all infant deaths were among the 2% of infants born at less than 32 weeks of gestation.
However, death rates for late-preterm infants, those born at 34 to 36 weeks of gestation, were still three times those for infants born at term, the report states.
The three leading causes of infant mortality are congenital malformations, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome. Together these accounted for 46% of all infant deaths. In 2006, 36.1% of infant deaths were due to preterm delivery.
Among black women the rate of these deaths was 3.4 times higher than that of Puerto Rican women and 84% higher than that of white women, the researchers found.
It's too early to know if the drop in infant mortality is a trend, Mathews said. "We had actually seen an increase to 2005," he noted. "It's one year. We don't get a trend out of one year."
Mathews noted that for a number of years, the infant mortality rate in the United States has been just under seven deaths for every 1,000 births.
These data are four years old, Mathews noted. But, when more current data will be available isn't known, he said.
Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said that "we are encouraged by a 3% drop in the rate of infant mortality, but it's nothing to write home about yet."
Howse added, "What remains concerning is when you compare the rate of infant mortality in the United States to the 32 other industrialized countries, we still rank very low. It's very disquieting for rates of infant mortality in our country to still be as high as they are."
Howse is also disturbed by ongoing disparities in infant mortality between racial groups.
"Obviously, disparities of income and access to health care are writ large in this area," she said. "But we are encouraged by the passage of the health reform legislation. As the implementation of health reform proceeds over the next couple of years, that's going to help improve these numbers."
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