Women with both an STD and urinary tract infection during early pregnancy are four times more likely to have babies with gastroschisis, a severe birth defect in which infants are born with their intestines and other internal organs outside the abdomen, say University of Utah researchers in the British Medical Journal.
The study may partly explain a global increase in gastroschisis, according to lead investigator Marcia L. Feldkamp. "Gastroschisis is a public health issue worldwide, and the prevalence is on the rise in Utah," Feldkamp said. "We don't understand why this is occurring. But the incidence of STDs is also increasing and there may be a connection." A study conducted by others in Utah found a tenfold increase in gastroschisis from 1971-2002, according to Feldkamp.
The causes and mechanisms of gastroschisis are not known, but researchers suspect environmental and maternal factors may be related to the birth defect. The age of a woman giving birth also appears to play a strong role: women less than 20 years old are 11 times more likely to have babies with gastroschisis than women older than 25. Nationally, one in every 2,700 babies is born with gastroschisis.
The study established that women who reported having both an STD and UTI immediately before or early in pregnancy were four times more likely to have a child with gastroschisis. Although the association between having both an STD and UTI and the risk for gastroschisis needs more study, it's possible the link might be even stronger than the study suggests, according to Feldkamp, as STDs and UTIs often go undiagnosed. "One of the problems, especially with Chlamydia, is these infections are subclinical [unreported] because the woman doesn't know she has it," Feldkamp said. "We probably have many cases that go undiagnosed."
This is a particularly important issue in the under-20 age group as STDs are increasing in women in this demographic. Chlamydia, in particular, is rapidly increasing Feldkamp said, and can cause both a sexually transmitted disease infection and a UTI. "If teens are having sex and getting pregnant, they're at risk of sexually transmitted diseases," she said. "They're not thinking about the consequences, so that's a huge problem with this age group."
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Source: University of Utah Health Sciences