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In-utero arsenic exposure could increase infection and respiratory conditions within a year of life

Posted:  Friday, November 20, 2015

A recent study found that children born to women exposed to higher arsenic levels during pregnancy reported greater episodes of respiratory symptoms and infections within their 1st birthday. Private well water has been found to be the primary source of arsenic in the diet. Arsenic could also come from some foods such as rice and rice products.

For the study, results of which are published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers measured arsenic levels in the urine of 412 pregnant women who used private well water. This helped them in estimating arsenic exposure in the womb. After delivery, the researchers conducted a telephone survey every 4 months to assess the number and severity of infections and respiratory symptoms in the child within the 1st year of life.

It was found that infants exposed to arsenic in utero had greater numbers of infections resulting in doctor visits and prescription medication usage. Infants exposed to higher amount of arsenic reported more upper and lower respiratory tract infections and respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing requiring treatment.

According to the researchers, nearly 10–15% of private wells in New Hampshire have arsenic levels much above the EPA levels. They also found similar results from Bangladesh, a region reporting high arsenic-related respiratory conditions. Biologically, arsenic has shown to disrupt immune function and increase susceptibility to infection among highly exposed populations.

“These results suggest that arsenic exposure may increase the risk and severity of certain types of infections. Respiratory infections and symptoms during infancy could signal a greater risk of later life atopy (the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases) or respiratory impairment," said researchers. In conclusion, they suggest testing well waters for the presence of arsenic on a regular basis to prevent such conditions.

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