RESIDENT Doctors Association of Zambia (RDAZ) general secretary Francis Mupeta has said neo-natal (babies in the first few days after birth) jaundice can be caused by several factors which include haemolysis.
In an interview, Dr Mupeta, who is also Maamba Hospital director, defined the condition as yellowish discolouration of the skin, palms, soles of feet and sclera (white part of the eye), caused by an accumulation of haemoglobin by-product (bilirubin) in the blood stream.
"It can be caused by several factors such as hemolysis of the red blood cells, which often appear on the first day of life, as a result of destruction of red blood cells," he said.
Dr Mupeta also said neo-natal jaundice could be caused by physiological factors, which tends to occur on the third day of life as a result of the destruction of excess blood cells in newborn babies, and noted that this one is not usually fatal.
He said sometimes the condition could also result from breast milk, which may sometimes contain a substance that impairs the metabolism of bilirubin.
"Other causes result from the absence of enzymes that are responsible for the metabolism of bilirubin in newborns," he said.
Dr Mupeta noted that some of the immediate symptoms that could be noticed include discolouration of the baby's skin, fever (when infection is present), body weakness, crying and poor feeding.
He said excess accumulation of bilirubin in the brain could lead to a fatal condition known as kernicterus.
Dr Mupeta said treatment of the condition is mainly dependent on the cause.
He said one of the treatments is phototherapy, which involves the exposure of the baby to blue or white light.
Another treatment option for jaundice is known as exchange transfusion, which involves infusing a certain amount of blood into the blood stream, which is done simultaneously with the withdrawal of blood from the baby's blood stream.
Dr Mupeta said although the condition was not entirely preventable, potential causes could be prevented by practising neo-natal hygiene in order to prevent infections.
He said another way of ensuring proper screening of foetus for congenital absence of enzymes responsible for bilirubin metabolism.
Dr Mupeta appealed to mothers and caregivers to seek early medical attention when their babies develop symptoms of jaundice.
He also said although the condition mostly affects babies, but there were also causes of adults presenting with symptoms of jaundice, mainly caused by liver diseases.