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Key Findings: Maternal Fever During Early Pregnancy May Be Linked to Birth Defects

Pregnant woman checking her temperature with a thermometer at home

A study from the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that women who reported having a fever before or during early pregnancy were more likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect compared to women who did not report having a fever. However, women who reported having a fever before or during early pregnancy, but who were consuming 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, did not have this increased risk for having a baby born with a neural tube defect.

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Main Findings:

  • Women who reported having a fever just before or during early pregnancy were more than twice as likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect compared with women who did not report having a fever.
  • Women who reported having a fever and did not consume the recommended 400 mcg of folic acid each day had the highest risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect.
  • Women who are planning a pregnancy should consider taking steps to protect themselves from fever and infection during early pregnancy to help prevent birth defects.

What Are Neural Tube Defects?

  • Neural tube defects are serious birth defects of the brain and spine.
  • The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida (affects the spine) and anencephaly (affects the brain).
  • Neural tube defects happen during the first month of pregnancy.
  • Consuming 400 mcg of folic acid daily, before and during early pregnancy, can help lower the risk of neural tube defects.

About This Study

About Birth Defects

Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the body (such as the heart, brain, face, arms, and legs). They may affect how the body looks, works, or both.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) saves babies by preventing birth defects. NCBDDD identifies causes of birth defects, finds opportunities to prevent them, and improves the health of those living with birth defects. Learn how NCBDDD makes a difference by visiting https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/aboutus/saving-babies/index.html.

More Information

Key Findings Reference

Kerr SM, Parker SE, Mitchell AA, Tinker SC, Werler MM. Periconceptional maternal fever, folic acid intake, and the risk for neural tube defects. Annals of Epidemiology. 2017 Nov 2.

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