HEALTH

Study: Vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women increases risk of developing severe preeclampsia

BY Michael Johnsen

PITTSBURGH — Women who are deficient in vitamin D in the first 26 weeks of their pregnancy may be at risk of developing severe preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening disorder diagnosed by an increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine, according to research by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health released last week.

“For decades, vitamin D was known as a nutrient that was important only for bone health,” stated lead author Lisa Bodnar, associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. “Over the past 10 to 15 years, scientists have learned that vitamin D has diverse functions in the body beyond maintaining the skeleton, including actions that may be important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy.” 

In one of the largest studies to date, researchers studied blood samples collected from 700 pregnant women who later developed preeclampsia in an effort to examine a woman’s vitamin D status during pregnancy and her risk of developing preeclampsia. The full study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is available online in the journal Epidemiology, and will publish in the March print issue.

Bodnar and her colleagues also studied blood samples from 3,000 mothers who did not develop preeclampsia. The samples were collected between 1959 and 1965 at 12 U.S. sites enrolled in the Collaborative Perinatal Project. The blood was well-preserved, and researchers were able to test for vitamin D levels decades later.

Scientists controlled for factors that could have affected a woman’s vitamin D status, including race, pre-pregnancy body mass index, number of previous pregnancies, smoking, diet, physical activity and sunlight exposure, which is the body’s primary source of vitamin D. 

The researchers found that vitamin D sufficiency was associated with a 40% reduction in risk of severe preeclampsia. But there was no relationship between vitamin D and mild preeclampsia. The overall risk of severe preeclampsia in the women sampled was 0.6%, regardless of vitamin D status.

“Scientists believe that severe preeclampsia and mild preeclampsia have different root causes,” noted senior author Mark Klebanoff of the Center for Perinatal Research at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Severe preeclampsia poses much higher health risks to the mother and child, so linking it with a factor that we can easily treat, like vitamin D deficiency, holds great potential.”

“If our results hold true in a modern sample of pregnant women, then further exploring the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of preeclampsia would be warranted,” Bodnar said. “Until then, women shouldn’t automatically take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as a result of these findings.”

“If our results hold true in a modern sample of pregnant women, then further exploring the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of preeclampsia would be warranted,” Bodnar said. “Until then, women shouldn’t automatically take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as a result of these findings.”

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FDA considering two new allergy remedies

BY Michael Johnsen

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — The Food and Drug Administration will hold a public meeting of the Allergenic Products Advisory Committee on Tuesday to determine the safety and efficacy of Ragwitek, a short ragweed pollen allergen extract tablet for sublingual use, which is manufactured by Merck and indicated for immunotherapy for diagnosed ragweed pollen induced allergic rhinitis, with or without conjunctivitis.

“The committee is likely to approve these tablets which will mark great improvement in the fight against allergy,” stated Michael Foggs, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Once the committee and then the FDA approve the tablets, allergy sufferers will have another form of treatment available to them.” 

In December, the same committee granted approval for Stallergenes’ Oralair, which are grass allergy tablets. Assuming the committee also approves the ragweed allergy tablets, the FDA will then have to approve both the grass and ragweed tablets before they can be made available to allergy sufferers, Foggs noted.

Currently, the best treatment for those with moderate-to-severe allergy symptoms is allergy shots, according to ACAAI.

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CDC: Flu season past its peak but still going strong

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FluView report released Friday, flu activity remains high overall, but is declining in parts of the country while increasing in other parts of the country. Most notably the Southeast, which began experiencing high levels of flu activity at the end of November, is now showing declines in activity. 

Flu activity is likely to continue for some time, the agency projected. Anyone aged 6 months and older who has not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season should get one now, especially if they are in a part of the country where activity is still at a high level, CDC advised. 

For the week of Jan. 12 to 18, the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness decreased for the third week, but remains above the national baseline. All ten regions continue to report ILI activity above their region-specific baseline level. ILI activity is increasing among some Western and Northeastern states. 

Thirteen states experienced high ILI activity. This is a decrease from the 14 states that reported high ILI activity last week. Seven states and New York City experienced moderate ILI activity. Fifteen states experienced low ILI activity. Fifteen states experienced minimal ILI activity. 

Forty-one states reported widespread geographic influenza activity; an increase from the 40 states that reported widespread activity in the previous week. Puerto Rico and eight states reported regional activity. The District of Columbia reported local activity and Guam and Hawaii reported sporadic influenza activity. The U.S. Virgin Islands reported no influenza activity.

The highest hospitalization rates are among people 65 and older and children younger than 5 years. This is typical of most flu seasons.

However, of the 4,615 influenza-associated hospitalizations that have been reported this season, 61% have been in people ages 18 to 64 years. More commonly, most flu hospitalizations occur in people 65 and older. This pattern of more hospitalizations among younger people was also seen during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Influenza A (H3N2), 2009 influenza A (H1N1), and influenza B viruses have all been identified in the U.S. this season. To date, influenza A (H1N1) viruses have predominated. This is the H1N1 virus that emerged in 2009 to cause a pandemic and is the first season that the virus has circulated at such high levels since the pandemic. During the week of January 12-18, 2,707 of the 2,793 influenza-positive tests reported to CDC were influenza A viruses and 86 were influenza B viruses. Of the 1,785 influenza A viruses that were subtyped, 3.2% were H3 viruses and 96.8% were 2009 H1N1 viruses.

As many as 710 (99.8%) of the 711 2009 H1N1 viruses tested were characterized as A/California/7/2009-like. This is the influenza A (H1N1) component of the Northern Hemisphere quadrivalent and trivalent vaccines for the 2013-2014 season.

 

 

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