TUESDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- Vitamin D supplements for pregnant women may help prevent a respiratory disease called RSV that can lead to pneumonia and other potentially life-threatening illnesses in newborns, Dutch researchers report.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of pneumonia and inflammation of the lower airways (bronchiolitis) in infants in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most children recover, many are hospitalized and develop respiratory problems that persist well into childhood.
"We have no treatment for RSV. The only thing we can do is try to prevent the disease," said lead researcher Dr. Louis Bont, from the department of pediatric infectious diseases at Wilhelmina Children's Hospital and University Medical Center in Utrecht.
One way to prevent RSV is for pregnant women to take supplemental vitamin D, he said. "In fact, there are guidelines that prescribe that," he added.
"If pregnant women do not take vitamin D supplements, they have low vitamin D levels in the umbilical cord blood and then the children have a severely increased risk of RSV," Bont said.
"Intake of vitamin D during late stage of pregnancy is vital to prevent RSV, and probably other respiratory diseases as well," he concluded.
RSV infects about 5 million children in the United States each year. But if women took vitamin D supplements during pregnancy, about 20 percent of those infections in newborns might be prevented, Bont said. "That would be in the magnitude of 1 million cases per year," he said.
Vitamin D has many important functions, Bont explained, noting that "it shapes and matures the immune system." In addition, the vitamin plays a role in helping the respiratory system develop, he added.
The report was published in the May 9 online edition of Pediatrics.
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