Women are 69% more likely to catch tuberculosis (TB) in the first six months after they give birth, according to a major new study.
Scientists from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the University of East Anglia examined the medical records of more than 190,000 women over 12 years.
The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that during pregnancy women were not at a significantly higher risk of TB. However, in the first six months after pregnancy their risk was much higher.
Overall the researchers calculated that the rate of TB among pregnant and postnatal women was 15.4 per 100,000, compared to 9.1 per 100,000 outside of pregnancy.
Despite the study finding that there was no marked increase of risk during pregnancy, Dr Dominik Zenner, a consultant in public health at the HPA who authored the report, explained that mums-to-be are still thought to be at more risk than the general population.
“The risk during pregnancy is nonetheless likely to be increased,” Dr Zenner said. “This is in keeping with the observation that pregnant women are disproportionately affected by other respiratory illnesses such as flu.”
“The reason why more postnatal women were diagnosed with TB than pregnant women could be because the TB infection wasn’t picked up during pregnancy.”
According to the latest figures from the HPA, 8,483 cases of TB were diagnosed last year. TB is a contagious bacterial disease that is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms to watch out for include a persistent cough, night sweats, fever, weight loss and blood in your phlegm or spit.
Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, head of TB surveillance at the HPA and a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, said: “Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment is essential. TB is a preventable and treatable condition but, if left untreated, can be life threatening.”
If you are worried you should contact your GP.