Thirty-five calves were delivered by caesarean section near to term. During the operation amniotic fluid was collected for determination of the lecithin/sphingomyelin (L/S) ratio. Clinical examination of the calves and analysis of blood gas concentration (venous blood) were carried out within the first hour of life. Fifteen out of 35 calves under examination did not show clinical or blood gas disorders in the course of the first hour of life. In these calves, the L/S ratio, which represents a measure for the maturity of the surfactant system, averaged 2.6. The other 20 calves, however, developed a respiratory distress syndrome together with a progressive respiratory and metabolic acidosis within the first hour of life. The L/S ratio in the animals affected with respiratory distress syndrome reached an average value of 1.5 which was significantly below that of the calves not suffering from respiratory distress. Eleven of the 20 calves which developed respiratory distress syndrome died within the first 60 hours of life. The most striking findings in the post mortem examinations of these animals were intracranial haemorrhages and pulmonary lesions (hyaline membranes, interstitial and alveolar oedema). On the basis of the significantly lower L/S ratio and the post mortem findings, it is to be assumed that the respiratory distress syndrome in calves, equally with that in infants, is attributable to a surfactant deficiency.
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