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Prenatal Pandemic Flu May Increase Cardiovascular Risk

Last Updated: October 01, 2009.

Prenatal exposure to the notoriously virulent 1918 pandemic flu increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and growth retardation later in life, according to a study published online Oct. 1 in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

THURSDAY, Oct. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Prenatal exposure to the notoriously virulent 1918 pandemic flu increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and growth retardation later in life, according to a study published online Oct. 1 in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

Bhashkar Mazumder, Ph.D., from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and colleagues investigated the risk of cardiovascular and other chronic disease in people born in and around the 1918 to 1919 influenza A H1N1 pandemic by analyzing data from the 1982 to 1996 National Health Interview Surveys and by analyzing height at World War II army enlistment for men born between 1915 and 1922.

The researchers found that people born during the pandemic had a greater than or equal to 20 percent excess risk of cardiovascular disease after 60 years of age. The likelihood of heart disease was 23.1 percent higher in men born in the first quarter of 1919 and 17 percent higher for women born in the second quarter of 1919. Men born in 1919 were shorter at enlistment than men born before or after the pandemic, suggesting growth retardation. The results took into account the season of birth, which affects the later prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and maternal malnutrition, which affects growth.

"Calculations on the prevalence of maternal infections indicate that prenatal exposure to even uncomplicated maternal influenza may have lasting consequences later in life," the authors conclude. "These findings suggest novel roles for maternal infections in the fetal programming of cardiovascular risk factors that are independent of maternal malnutrition."

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