Arsenic exposure during pregnancy affects the immune system


A study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, has revealed that children exposed to arsenic during pregnancy have a greater risk of infections and respiratory symptoms with a compromised immune system.

The study measured the arsenic levels in private wells in New Hampshire and measured arsenic levels in 412 pregnancy women to estimate the amount of exposure of each child in the womb. Private wells are generally not regulated and well water is the primary source of arsenic for most people and nearly 10-15 percent of private wells in New Hampshire contain arsenic levels above the EPA limit. Foods products such as rice and rice products and apple juice, can also contain arsenic.

A survey was done after the child was born to investigate the number and severity of infections and symptoms that the child experienced in the first year of life.

The analyzed data revealed that infants exposed to arsenic in utero had greater numbers of infections that resulted in a doctor visit or treatment with prescription medication. Infants exposed to higher levels of arsenic in utero tended to have more upper and lower respiratory tract infections as well as respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing, that warranted treatment.

“These results suggest that arsenic exposure may increase the risk and severity of certain types of infections,” said senior author Margaret Karagas, a professor and chair of epidemiology at Geisel. “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.”

1.Margaret R. Karagas, Emily Baker, Kari Nadeau, Richard Enelow, Donna Spiegelman, Susan A. Korrick, Zhigang Li, Shohreh F. Farzan. Infant Infections and Respiratory Symptoms in Relation to in Utero Arsenic Exposure in a U.S. Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1409282

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