Women and infants who lived through Hurricane Andrew may help predict the long-term effects of hurricanes on health. Mothers included in the study were pregnant when Hurricane Andrew hit the United States. More than 100,000 people were affected by the storm from Florida to Mississippi. The results of the study were compared with healthy pregnancies in populations unaffected by the hurricane.

Researchers reported some interesting findings in women coming in contact with the effects of Hurricane Andrew:

  • Hurricane exposure during second trimester – Caucasian – increased risk of fetal distress 20%
  • Hurricane exposure during third trimester – Caucasian – increased risk of fetal distress 26%
  • Hurricane exposure during third trimester – African American – increased risk of fetal distress 45%

Researchers took into account any extenuating circumstances that could have impacted the final results. The definition of distress is listed as “measurable deficiency in oxygen reaching fetal tissues” for this study.

The effects of fetal distress on infants and children can cause general growth and language impairment, increased risk of schizophrenia and other negative mental and intellectual effects.

According to author Sammy Zahran, “"We observe noticeable spikes in the proportion of infants born distressed for all racial groups that correspond with the onset of Hurricane Andrew.”

With this information, local governments may be able to address the pregnant population when a local disaster is imminent. As fetal stress may be directly related to maternal stress, calming the mother could be the key to preventing fetal harm.

Source: Sammy Zahran, Jeffrey Snodgrass, Lori Peek, Stephan Weiler. Risk Analysis by Society for Risk Analysis. 13 October, 2010.

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