When women are pregnant, they are more vulnerable to severe respiratory infections caused by various viruses– such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza A virus (IAV), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
At the same time, pregnant women are significantly more impacted by influenza– experiencing a hospitalization risk that increases by more than 10 times.
In a new study conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University, though, it has been found that exposure to UFPs– or ultrafine particles– during gestation also raises respiratory infection risk.
It has been known that air pollution impacts the pulmonary immune system– resulting in increased susceptibility to viral infections. Additionally, research has previously found that pregnant women are at an increased risk of experiencing severe flu.
Shockingly, though, studies have not yet analyzed the combined effect of these three factors– pregnancy, influenza, and air pollution– together.
“Our findings demonstrate the need to further study these interactions in order to prevent short and perhaps long-term impacts on maternal health,” said Dr. Natlie Johnson, the study’s leader.
Within the study, which has since been published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology, the research team discussed how various physiological characteristics help explain pregnant women’s viral infection susceptibility.
Primarily, pregnant women experience heightened cardiac output as well as decreased tidal volume– or the amount of air that travels into and out of the lungs during every respiratory cycle. Additionally, certain immunological changes are also at play– including the selective modulation of subsets of immune cells in order to protect fetus development.
The researchers also pointed out how during pregnancy, vaccination compliance is usually low, falling under 50%– even though influenza vaccinations are effective and safe. Regardless, this lack of compliance ultimately results in an increased risk of respiratory infection development.