Pregnant Women and the Flu
There's some intriguing new evidence out today offering pregnant women yet another reason to try to avoid getting the H1N1 "swine flu." A new study suggests that babies born to mothers exposed to the subtype of flu virus causing the swine flu pandemic may be at risk for health problems later in life.
Caleb Finch of the University of Southern California and colleagues studied more than 100,000 people who were born during and around the time of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in the United States. That pandemic was caused by a much more dangerous virus than the 2009 H1N1 strain that's currently going around. But it was also an H1N1 subtype. And the bug that's circulating now does appear to be especially dangerous for pregnant women.
The researchers found that men born in the first few months of 1919, which means they were in the second or third trimester during the height of the pandemic, were about 23 percent more likely to have heart disease after the age of 60 than the overall population, the researchers report in today's issue of the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health.
For women, those born in the first few months of 1919 were not significantly more likely to have heart disease. But those born in the second quarter of 1919 -- meaning they were in the first trimester during the height of the pandemic -- were 17 percent more likely to have heart disease, the researchers report.
In addition, the researchers analyzed military records during World War II for 2.7 million men born between 1915 and 1922 and found that average height increased for every year except for the men who were in the womb during the flu pandemic. Those men were slightly shorter on average than those born just a year later or a year before, the researchers found.
Although it remains unclear why babies whose mothers were exposed to the flu would experience health problems later in life, the researchers said it could be a variety of factors. Such babies could be more likely to be born underweight, for example.
Whatever the cause, the researchers say the findings indicate that maternal stress from flu infections can have lingering effects on their offspring, which provides another reason pregnant women should get their flu shots, experts say.
October 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Cardiovascular Health , Influenza , Motherhood
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