New test can help prove or disprove child abuse allegations

Marital strife has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Some parents start taking out their anger and frustration toward their spouse on their kids instead.

Unfortunately, babies and very young children are often victims of a type of domestic violence that isn't always easy to diagnose: trauma to the brain and intracranial bleeding caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome or blows to the head.

The popular perception of Shaken Baby Syndrome is that it is easy to diagnose -- and in severe cases, it is. But the majority of the time the baby seems perfectly normal, just a little fussy or lethargic -- symptoms that could be the result of anything from an upset stomach to an ear infection.

Identifying brain hemorrhages in infants who seem like they may have nothing more than the flu or a cold is a dilemma many doctors face. Emergency room physicians have to use their best judgment -- which helps identify about 70 percent of cases where there is bleeding inside the child's skull. The bleeding can then be confirmed with the use of radiation testing.

However, doctors are reluctant to scan babies using radiation because it's much more harmful to them, even in low doses, than it is to an adult. And the 30 percent of cases that doctors miss often come back to haunt them as more severe damage shows or after the baby is abused again.

Now, a simple blood test may solve all of those problems. Researchers at Pittsburgh's Children's Hospital and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have developed a blood test that can detect a brain bleed with about 90 percent accuracy. It only takes a tiny amount of blood and can be run in 45 minutes.

It's important to note that the new blood test doesn't determine the cause of the brain bleed, so it cannot diagnose abuse -- only a doctor can do that. However, a blood test like this can help reduce the number of missed cases drastically and prevent the most vulnerable members of a family from being put back in danger or sent home without treatment.

If your child is the victim of domestic violence, seek legal help immediately. An attorney can help you get an order of protection and custody away from an abusive parent.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Researchers move forward with biomarker test to uncover babies' brain injury," Jill Daly, April 18, 2017

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