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Pre-Birth Exposure to 1918 Flu Raised Heart Risks, Study Finds
Date:10/1/2009

nformation came from national surveys conducted from 1982 to 1996, when most participants were 63 to 78 years old.

The researchers found that men born in early 1919 -- meaning their mothers were in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during the height of the epidemic -- had a 23 percent increased risk for heart disease at age 60, compared with the general population.

Yet women born in early 1919 were not significantly more likely to develop heart disease, which may have to do with gender differences in the effects of flu exposure, Finch's group said.

However, women born in the second quarter of 1919 -- whose mothers, then, were in the first trimester of pregnancy during the height of the epidemic -- were 17 percent more likely to develop heart disease than the general population, the study found.

In addition, among 2.7 million men born between 1915 and 1922, the researchers looked at their height at the time they signed up for service in World War II. They found that the men's height increased every year, except among men born during the flu pandemic.

Moreover, men who'd been exposed to the 1918 Spanish flu while in the womb were slightly shorter than men born just a year later or a year before. The findings remained significant even after controlling for season-of-birth effects and any malnutrition among the mothers, the study reported.

Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City said that "it is reasonable that, if you had the flu in 1918, it could lead to a maternal disruption that would increase the incidence of long-term medical problems if you're a fetus."

The 1918 flu, he said, was particularly deadly, which is not likely to be the case with every flu variation.

"The current H1N1 flu is mild and certainly has less teeth than the 1918 flu, in terms of its virulence," Siegel said. "You cannot conclude
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