With the improvement of health standards over the years, the levels of birth defects have been lowered considerably and in England and Wales just over 690,000 births were given in the year of 2016. Ultrasound scanning has become more and more common as a way of monitoring the progress of an unborn child, often the scan at 8-14 weeks could indicate potential problems but the second scan which takes place at 18-21 weeks is known as the anomaly scan due it being the one that checks for defects or anomalies in the baby. Figures estimate that around 1 in every 50 births result in a defect, despite this most of the conditions are mild and can be treated quite easily. However these defects can also be serious and life threatening, affecting multiple parts of the body. The reasons to these defects rely on multiple factors, and recent research has suggested a fever early on in pregnancy may result in birth defects.
The study carried out by Duke University was focused on answering the question of whether the fever caused the defect or the underlying cause. Duke University led by Eric Benner of the paediatrics department, created a method to test this theory. By using a magnet based device, they were able to close and open certain pathways inside embryos. By altering the temperature of the embryos using proteins they found that the cells were affected in their functioning in a negative manner. The researchers used an approach to stimulate the fever conditions on the cells without affecting the rest of the organism- also known as a remote radiofrequency approach. They discovered that it was the fever itself and not its source that interfered with the development of the heart and jaw in the early first trimester of pregnancy. The result was with animal embryos developing facial deformities and heart defects when heated. The facial deformities also included clefts, which is a known birth defect.
Scientists saw that the animal models suggest that some defects such as cleft lip or palate could be prevented by using paracetamol or acetaminophen. Drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen were not recommended due to their strong nature, furthermore measures to prevent illness could be prevented via implementing strict hand washing measures and vaccinations against flu. The occurrence of fevers during pregnancy is not uncommon and the actions taken to counteract this are what impacts the health of the developing baby. The study will prove to be important as scientists can now work to figure out the severity of the fever in pregnancy and the duration for how it impacts fetal development.