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Hurricanes Linked to Raised 'Fetal Distress' Risk

MONDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to hurricanes while still in the womb may increase risk of fetal distress, which can cause long-range health problems after birth, new research reveals.

Fetal distress, which results from too little oxygen reaching fetal tissues, can impair intellectual and language development, and perhaps even put these children at increased risk of schizophrenia, the researchers noted.

Their conclusions are based on data involving mothers and infants who were in the line of Hurricane Andrew when it hit Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward counties in 1992.

"We observe noticeable spikes in the proportion of infants born distressed for all racial groups that correspond with the onset of Hurricane Andrew," study co-author Sammy Zahran, from Colorado State University's Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis, said in a news release from the Society for Risk Analysis.

The study is reported in the October issue of Risk Analysis.

To investigate how hurricane-related stress might affect a child, the authors compared data concerning hurricane-hit regions of the state with data from other Floridian counties that escaped the battering.

Babies who had been exposed in utero to the hurricane during the first trimester did not go on to display any signs of fetal distress, they found.

However, hurricane exposure during the second trimester provoked a 20 percent rise in fetal distress at birth. A rise in risk of 26 percent was observed among those exposed during the third trimester, according to the study.

Race also played a role, the researchers found. Black newborns exposed to the hurricane during the third trimester were 45 percent more likely to experience fetal distress, they noted.

These risks add to the human and economic cost of severe hurricanes, the authors said.

Based on the findings, the authors suggest that expectant mothers be prioritized for evacuation in the face of an impending hurricane.

"When designing disaster planning initiatives, emergency managers should include representatives from groups and agencies that focus on women's reproductive health," the authors noted in their report. "Relief centers should be organized to ensure that they meet women's needs for prenatal care."

More information

For more on fetal distress and monitoring, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: Society for Risk Analysis, news release, Oct. 13, 2010

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