INDOOR spray insecticides, mosquito coil, lotion type insect repellents, and other chemicals may help to keep the home or yard free of bothersome insects, but at what cost? New research finds that unborn babies are among the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides, especially when exposure takes place during the first trimester when the neural tube and the nervous system is forming.
Pesticides are chemical products used to control or destroy harmful or annoying pests. Globally, tonnes of pesticide products are used each year in agriculture and in the home as bug sprays, insect repellents, and other pest control products. Individuals are exposed to chemical pesticides in three main ways, inhaling them, absorbing them through the skin, or ingesting them by mouth.
Also, mounting evidence supports the link between pesticide exposure during pregnancy and newborn baby’s health. Recently, researchers found that mothers who used spray insecticides indoors more than several times a week during pregnancy gave birth to babies with high levels of bilirubin in newborn (neonatal hyperbilirubinemia), which requires phototherapy at a rate 1.21 times higher than in a group of mothers who never used insecticide or repellents during pregnancy.
Jaundice in newborns is one of the most common reasons for hospital admission in the neonatal unit, and it is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. It can occur when babies have a high level of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. It usually begins on the second day after birth and lasts two to three days to reach normal levels of bilirubin in most cases without treatments.
In addition, the researcher’s analysis of the data of 61,751 pregnant women, out of approximately 100,000 collected by the Japan Environment and Children’s Study indicated that when a spray or lotion-type insect repellent was used frequently, the incidence was 0.70 times lower.
In the study, 36,610 (59.2%) mothers used insect repellents for clothes during pregnancy, 20,352 (33.0%) used indoor spray insecticides, and 19,518 (31.6%) used mosquito coils and electric mosquito traps. 5,333 (8.6%) used herbicides and pesticides for gardening and 15,309 (24.8%) used spray or lotion type insect repellent.
They, however, did not observe any correlation between high levels of bilirubin in newborns requiring treatment regarding the use of insect repellents for clothing, mosquito coils, electric mosquito repellents, pesticides and pesticides for gardening. The 2020 study was published in Pediatric Research.
The Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS), a large-scale, long-term birth cohort survey of 100,000 sets of parents and children nationwide started in 2010. It was to clarify the effects of exposure to chemical substances on the health of children during the fetal and childhood stages. The study will follow up on the participating children until they are 13 years old to clarify the environmental factors that affect their health.
Dr Kemi Tongo, a consultant paediatrician, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, says that the use of some pesticides in pregnancy is not safe because it could lead to the breakdown of the red blood cells in unborn babies with Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, causing bilirubin to accumulate and then jaundice occurring in such babies.
According to her, the effect of a pregnant woman’s exposure to pesticides will only be seen after the baby is born and the mother’s liver ceases from helping to remove the produced bilirubin from the baby’s body through the placenta, the organ that grows during pregnancy to feed the baby.
In older babies and adults, the liver processes bilirubin. It passes through the intestinal tract. However, a newborn’s still-developing liver may not be mature enough to remove bilirubin.
The medical expert declared that causes of newborn jaundice also include abnormal blood cell shapes (such as sickle cell anaemia), blood type mismatch between the mother and baby (Rh incompatibility or ABO incompatibility), infection (present at birth, such as rubella and syphilis), prematurity/low birth weight and intake of sulphur-containing medicines.
The expert, however, warned that high levels of bilirubin can put a baby at risk for deafness, cerebral palsy, or other forms of brain damage, making its early detection and treatment very important.
Previously, a University of California, Berkeley, study found that exposure to one type of pesticide (organophosphates) during pregnancy was linked to an earlier delivery, an increase in abnormal reflexes in the infants, poorer mental development at 24 months of age, and increased risk of developmental disorder.
Also, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health found those children born to mothers who were exposed to different a group of pesticides, organochlorines, during pregnancy, had an increased level of behaviours associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
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