Study Links Antibiotics in Pregnancy to Allergies
October 15, 2002 11:23:46 AM PST, Reuters
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A large study of British children suggests that women who have an infection or take antibiotics during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with an allergy-related condition, such as asthma, hay fever or the skin condition eczema, researchers report.

However, the findings do not mean that pregnant women should forgo necessary antibiotics during pregnancy, according to Dr. Michael J. Welch, a pediatrician in private practice in San Diego, California, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Studies have shown that certain conditions, such are urinary tract infections, can increase the risk of preterm labor, fetal death or mental retardation in the baby if they are not treated with antibiotics.

"This is an interesting study but all of the pieces of the puzzle are not in and pregnant women should not alter their antibiotic use," Welch told Reuters Health.

In the study, Tricia McKeever and colleagues at the University of Nottingham in the UK evaluated the medical records of nearly 25,000 British children and their mothers, according to a report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Children exposed to antibiotics in the womb had a higher risk of developing asthma, hay fever and eczema than children whose mothers did not take the medication during pregnancy.

"Approximately one third of the mothers were prescribed one or more courses of antibiotics during pregnancy and this exposure was associated with an increased incidence of all three allergic disease," the authors write. The researchers found that an infection during pregnancy was also associated with a small increased risk of allergies in a woman's offspring.

Because a person's immune system develops while he or she is still in the womb, some experts speculate that "factors that modify microbial exposure at this time may have a long-term impact on the risk of developing allergic disease, but research in this area has been limited," the researchers note.

More study is needed to confirm the findings.
SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2002;166:827-832.