Common antibiotic taken in pregnancy may double the risk of epilepsy or cerebral palsy in babies

  • Erythromycin is an antibiotic given for urinary and chest infections
  • Is prescribed during recurrent illness or for people allergic to penicillin
  • Researchers called for a safety review but stressed increased risk is small 
  • Overall, study found antibiotics taken during pregnancy were safe

Women have been warned that a common antibiotic could harm their unborn baby.

A study from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) has linked erythromycin pills with epilepsy and the cerebral palsy.

The researchers stressed that any increased risk is small. However, they are concerned enough to call for a thorough safety review.

Others said it is important to note that the majority of antibiotics prescribed in pregnancy were given a clean bill of health.

Woman have been warned the common antibiotic erythromycin could harm their unborn baby (file photo)

Woman have been warned the common antibiotic erythromycin could harm their unborn baby (file photo)

The researchers from GOSH and University College London tracked the brain health of the babies born to almost 200,000 British women

Around a third were prescribed antibiotics, with penicillin the most common.

Overall, the babies born to women who took antibiotics were no more likely to develop epilepsy or cerebral palsy than others.

However, one particular type of antibiotic did raise concern.

Women treated with erythromycin and other pills from the macrolide family of antibiotics were almost twice as likely to have a baby with one of the brain conditions than those given penicillin.

Macrolides are used to treat urinary and chest infections and are particularly likely to be given during recurrent illness or if a woman is allergic to penicillin.

Researcher Professor Ruth Gilbert said that just 7 per cent of those given antibiotics had taken macrolides and that any increased risk to the unborn child is small.

Her figures show that every 150 or so pregnant women given a macrolide antibiotic rather than penicillin, there will be one more baby born with cerebral palsy or epilepsy.

WHAT IS ERYTHROMYCIN?

Erythromycin are from the macrolide family of antibiotics.

Macrolides are used to treat urinary and chest infections and are particularly likely to be given during recurrent illness or if a woman is allergic to penicillin.

However, with four previous studies raising concerns about the pills, it is time that their use in pregnancy was thoroughly reviewed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

In the meantime, she advises pregnant women to take whichever antibiotics they are prescribed.

She said that the infection itself is more likely to be harmful to the unborn child than the treatment.

Professor Andrew Whitelaw, of Bristol University, said that bad infections can kill both mother and child.

But ‘nevertheless, drug treatment in pregnancy requires a very high level of safety and it will not surprise me if the regulatory authorities advise doctors to avoid or severely restrict macrolides in pregnancy’.

Others said that the study does not prove that macrolides are harmful.

Erythromycin is used to treat urinary and chest infections and are particularly likely to be given during recurrent illness or if a woman is allergic to penicillin

Erythromycin is used to treat urinary and chest infections and are particularly likely to be given during recurrent illness or if a woman is allergic to penicillin

One possibility is that the bugs they used treat are more likely to damage the brain than other infections.

Dr Christoph Lees, of University College London, said: ‘One thing is for sure: pregnant women should definitely take antibiotics when prescribed them as the risk of untreated infection to the pregnancy can be catastrophic.

‘To put things in context, the extra risk to their baby of being prescribed macrolides, if indeed there is a risk, is very tiny.’

The medicines’ watchdog, the MHRA, said it has already sought independent advice on the GOSH study and it does not provide proper proof that macrolides are dangerous.

A spokesman said: ‘Importantly, this study found no overall evidence of harm when antibiotics are prescribed in pregnancy.

‘Any pregnant woman who is prescribed antibiotics should continue to take them as instructed and speak to their healthcare professional if they have any questions.’

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3011324/Common-antibiotic-taken-pregnancy-double-risk-epilepsy-cerebral-palsy-babies.html#ixzz3VRX8WnB6Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

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