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Hurricane Harvey Linked to Pregnancy Health Risks

According to a recent report from Reuters, Hurricane Harvey might have had one of the most substantial health impacts on pregnant mothers and their newborns. A recent study in Texas examined pregnant women after Harvey and found that they had a higher rate of complications than women did before the storm.

Common issues pregnant women have experienced since Hurrican Harvey include:

  • High blood pressure
  • A need for cesarean sections
  • Infection

About the Study

Researchers published the study in Obstetrics and Gynecology. The study followed 29,179 women with singleton pregnancies for six years before the storm. Of these women, 3,842 delivered their babies within 40 weeks of Harvey. So, these women were “exposed” to the storm.

“Natural disasters can truly have deleterious effects, especially on vulnerable populations, that may not be evident until weeks or months later,” commented Dr. Hector Mendez-Figueroa to Reuters.

Pregnant women who gave birth after Harvey made landfall were found to have a 3 percent higher chance of having a hypersensitive disorder of pregnancy and a 7 percent higher rate of infection. Babies born after Harvey also had more problems than usual. While 7.8 percent of babies had medical issues before Harvey, 11.9 percent had problems after the storm.

What Caused These Issues?

Notably, researchers mentioned that those who gave birth after Hurricane Harvey were older, married, Caucasian, and had adequate health insurance when compared to those who gave birth before the hurricane. In other words, researchers found that those with more societal advantages had post-Harvey births. Researchers found that maternal morbidity saw a “significant increase after Harvey only among low socioeconomic women.”

While the authors of the research can’t “truly assess” what caused the increase with pregnancy issues, they cite biological changes from external factors as a likely source of trouble. According to Janet Currie, co-director of Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, stress might have been a significant factor in┬áthe health of pregnant women and their babies.

“Many lost their homes, vehicles, and in some cases their jobs,” Currie commented to Reuters. “People with greater resources could be confident of being able to rebuild. Poorer people are likely to have had a more stressful experience struggling to cope with the aftermath.”

What Can Help Pregnant Women During a Natural Disaster?

Shao Lin, from the University of Albany, studies natural disasters. She says that one of the best ways to protect pregnant women and their children during natural disasters is by evacuating them. According to lin, evacuating pregnant women would “reduce psychological stress related to property damage, providing social support may help.”

Currie said this study adds to the medical community’s emerging understanding of how natural disasters and their effects on pregnant women. She said that first responders should know about this research so they can be aware of the risk pregnant women face.