In a prospective regional survey of neonatal hepatitis syndrome 32 infants had extrahepatic biliary atresia (EHBA) and 103 had hepatitis. No cause for the lesion was found in infants with extrahepatic biliary atresia, but in 32 with hepatitis a specific cause was identified, 24 having genetic deficiency of the serum protein alpha1-antitrypsin. No differences were observed in parental age, mother's health in pregnancy, month of birth, birth order, or sex of the infants. Familial idiopathic hepatitis occurred in 3 of 67 sibs of patients with idiopathic hepatitis, but the 33 sibs of EHBA patients had no liver disease. Of the infants with hepatitis, 36 were of low birthweight, less than 2.5 kg, and 23 were born prematurely. Infants with biliary atresia were all of normal birthweight and only one was born prematurely. Consideration of clinical and biochemical abnormalities in the first 2 months of life showed no differences between the two groups except that infants with EHBA were more commonly jaundiced from birth (80%) and had more frequently acholic stools (83%). The frequency of these features in patients with hepatitis being 68% and 52%. Standard tests of liver function were not discriminatory. Percutaneous liver biopsies were diagnostic in 75% of those with EHBA and in 92% of those with hepatitis. The I131 Rose Bengal faecal excretion was less than 10% in 26 of 28 infants with EHBA and in only 5 of 18 with hepatitis. These latter two investigations together allowed a correct preoperativer diagnosis of EHBA in all instances. Bile drainage was achieved surgically in only 3 cases. A major reason for these poor results may have been the late referral of cases for diagnosis and laparotomy, which should be performed as soon as the diagnosis is suspected and always by 70 days of age.
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