In the context of the European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies (EUROCAT) surveillance response to the 2009 influenza pandemic, we sought to establish whether there was a detectable increase of congenital anomaly prevalence among pregnancies exposed to influenza seasons in general, and whether any increase was greater during the 2009 pandemic than during other seasons.
We performed an ecologic time series analysis based on 26,967 pregnancies with nonchromosomal congenital anomaly conceived from January 2007 to March 2011, reported by 15 EUROCAT registries. Analysis was performed for EUROCAT-defined anomaly subgroups, divided by whether there was a prior hypothesis of association with influenza. Influenza season exposure was based on World Health Organization data. Prevalence rate ratios were calculated comparing pregnancies exposed to influenza season during the congenital anomaly-specific critical period for embryo-fetal development to nonexposed pregnancies.
There was no evidence for an increased overall prevalence of congenital anomalies among pregnancies exposed to influenza season. We detected an increased prevalence of ventricular septal defect and tricuspid atresia and stenosis during pandemic influenza season 2009, but not during 2007-2011 influenza seasons. For congenital anomalies, where there was no prior hypothesis, the prevalence of tetralogy of Fallot was strongly reduced during influenza seasons.
Our data do not suggest an overall association of pandemic or seasonal influenza with congenital anomaly prevalence. One interpretation is that apparent influenza effects found in previous individual-based studies were confounded by or interacting with other risk factors. The associations of heart anomalies with pandemic influenza could be strain specific.