Blue Baby syndrome, also known as methemoglobin, affects an infant's ability to carry blood in his blood stream. The disease is typically caused when drinking water supplies contain too much nitrates. The skin of an affected infant will take on a bluish tint because of the lack of oxygen in the blood. The condition is harder to diagnose in children with darker skin tone or color.
Causes in the Blood. The increased amount of nitrates causes the body to produce an excessive amount of an enzyme called Methemoglobin. Adult bodies convert the methemoglobin enzyme into hemoglobin by using methemoglobin reductase. When a body functions normally, the enzyme is converted into the hemoglobin that carries oxygen on red blood cells. Symptoms in addition to the tint can include secondary infections, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Age at Which Blue Baby Occurs. Blue Baby Syndrome affects children under six months of age. The body has not yet developed the necessary amount of methemoglobin reductase in their systems, although the body will start producing more of the hormone as the child ages. Children over a year old do not usually get this condition.
Treatment for Blue Baby Syndrome. An infant who suffers from this condition needs treatment. A lack of oxygen in the blood stream can result in death. Treatment involves removing the nitrates in the system. This could involve removing the nitrates from the blood or a blood transfusion. Correcting environmental conditions is necessary in the long run.
Blue Baby Syndrome Risk Factors. Children who live in rural areas where heavy agriculture takes place are more likely to develop symptoms than infants elsewhere. Fertilizers used in modern agricultural processes increase the amount of nitrates in local water supplies. Water filtration units can remove many of the impurities in a person's tap water. Infants in homes with well water are more likely to suffer from the condition than those who use municipal water sources.