Effects of Disasters on Pregnant Women: Environmental Exposures
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it. When power outages occur during emergencies such as hurricanes or winter storms, alternative sources of fuel or electricity could be used for heating, cooling, or cooking. CO from these sources can build up in homes, garages, or campers, and poison people and animals inside.
For more information about how to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning, please see
Carbon Monoxide and Pregnancy
A pregnant woman might be especially concerned about the potential effects of carbon monoxide exposure on her unborn child. The symptoms of CO poisoning for a pregnant woman are the same as those for nonpregnant adults, but can be similar to those that normally appear in pregnancy (nausea, vomiting, and tiredness). It is important to know if other adults around the pregnant woman also have symptoms of CO poisoning. Generally, if a pregnant woman has very mild illness or no symptoms at all, it is unlikely that her unborn child will be at serious risk. The effects of more severe carbon monoxide poisoning on the developing baby will be related to the amount and length of CO exposure, and when during pregnancy the exposure occurred. Any pregnant woman who thinks she has had significant exposure to carbon monoxide should contact a health care professional.
For more information or to discuss individual carbon monoxide exposure during pregnancy, women and health professionals can call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at 1-866-626-OTIS or 1-866-626-6847.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have tested New Orleans flood waters for more than 100 chemicals. Based on these tests, people should avoid touching standing water when they can. People who do touch standing flood water should wash all exposed areas of their body with soap and water. Standing flood waters should not be swallowed, and people should avoid all mouth contact.
Tap water or water from wells may not be safe to drink, clean with, or bathe in after a hurricane or flood. People should listen to announcements by local officials about whether tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. If the water is not safe, they should follow local instructions about using bottled water or boiling or disinfecting water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.
To learn about keeping drinking water safe after a natural disaster, please see http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/foodwater/.
For information about disinfecting wells after a flood or other emergency, please see
Chemicals in Water and Pregnancy
Some chemicals are known to harm an unborn child. For other chemicals, the effects on an unborn baby are not known. If a pregnant woman touches standing flood water, she should report any symptoms of illness to a health care provider right away. Pregnant women should also listen to and follow public announcements from local officials about whether tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing.
For more information or to discuss individual chemical exposures during pregnancy, women and health professionals can call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at 1-866-626-OTIS or 1-866-626-6847.
Insect repellents are an important way to help people protect themselves from infections spread by mosquitoes. DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) and picaridin are two effective and long-lasting insect repellents.
For general information on insect repellent use, please see
Insect Repellents and Pregnancy
Pregnant women might ask if DEET is safe to be used during pregnancy. DEET does cross the placenta. However, the effects of DEET use in pregnancy have not been thoroughly studied. There have been no studies of picaridin use in pregnant women.
Infections spread by mosquitoes can be harmful to a developing baby. Therefore, the benefits of insect repellent use might outweigh any potential harm. To lower the risk of infections spread by mosquitoes, pregnant women should stay indoors during peak times of mosquito activity (usually dawn and dusk) and wear protective clothing. Pregnant women should apply insect repellent primarily to their clothing and, in small amounts, to exposed skin when necessary.
For more information on use of DEET during pregnancy, please see
The amount of lead found in some standing hurricane flood waters is higher than what is safe for drinking water. However, blood lead levels are not likely to rise as a result of the hurricane because people are not likely to drink a lot of standing flood water. People should not swallow standing flood waters and should avoid mouth contact when possible.
To learn more about lead exposure, please see
Lead and Pregnancy
High levels of lead in a mother?s blood can harm her unborn child. But, it is not likely that blood lead levels in pregnant women will rise as a result of the hurricane.
For more information about lead and pregnancy, please see http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/environmental-risks-and-pregnancy.aspx.
Rain and flooding in a hurricane area may cause the number of mosquitoes to increase. Mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile virus or dengue fever. To protect the health of people in hurricane areas, public health officials are working to control the spread of diseases by mosquitoes. This effort may include spraying pesticides, such as naled (trade names Dibrom? and Trumpet?), by air to kill mosquitoes. Naled is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is used often by many Louisiana Mosquito Control Districts. Spraying is usually done during the last 3 hours of daylight.
For information about pesticides used to spray for mosquitoes in the greater New Orleans area, please call the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry?s pesticide hotline at 225-925-3763.
To learn more about avoiding mosquitoes, please see
Pesticides and Pregnancy
Scientists do not know how naled might affect an unborn baby. But in tests on animals, pesticides similar to naled have not been linked with pregnancy problems, except at doses that also made the mother animal sick.
For more information or to discuss individual exposure to pesticides during pregnancy, women and health professionals can call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at 1-866-626-OTIS or 1-866-626-6847.
- Page last reviewed: February 24, 2015
- Page last updated: February 24, 2015
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