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Severe weather: Stress may affect newborns

PRINCETON, N.J., July 3 (UPI) -- Women who went through a hurricane or severe storm when pregnant had an elevated risk of their infant having an abnormal health condition, U.S. researchers say.

Lead researcher Janet Currie of Princeton University and colleagues used Texas birth records and meteorological information, and identified children born in the state between 1996 and 2008 whose mothers were in the path of a major tropical storm or hurricane during pregnancy.

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The children's health at birth was compared with that of siblings whose gestation didn't coincide with a major weather event.

The study, a working paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found experiencing a hurricane or major tropical storm can have a significant impact on people that goes well beyond stress.

Currie and colleagues concluded the findings related to abnormal health conditions at birth generally weren't tied to disruption of medical care or property damage caused by the storms, such as damage to an expectant mother's home. There was little evidence stress associated with storms affected pregnant women's behaviors, such as smoking, eating as reflected in weight gain and use of prenatal care.

One potential cause of the health problems found in the study was an increase in stress hormones caused by the storm, Currie said.

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