Pregnancies through the destructive Cyclone Yasi were more likely to result in premature births to underweight babies, a new study has found.
Australian National University (ANU) researchers looked at Queensland’s birth records collected from January 2008 to December 2012, and found there was a “significant” 20 per cent increase of premature births in 2011, the year of the cyclone, in the affected parts of the state.
“What we are finding is that it is the stress at the beginning of pregnancy that could have the greatest negative outcome on births,” researcher Alison Behie said in a statement on Monday.
“Our study showed it was pregnant women in their first trimester at the time of the storm that had the most pre-term babies.”
Premature babies have a higher infant mortality rate and an increased risk of health issues like respiratory problems, infections, and vision or hearing impairments.
About 8 per cent of babies in Australia are born prematurely, before 37 weeks’ gestation, according to the Victorian government’s Better Health website.
Most grow up to be healthy children.
Co-author Cynthia Parayiwa said the study, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, could be used to help support pregnant women through natural disasters.
“In areas that are highly susceptible to tropical cyclones, or floods and fires, we need to ask if our policies to protect expecting mothers are adequate,” Ms Parayiwa said.
“With climate change we are going to be seeing more and more of these extreme weather events, so it is very important that we identify which people are most vulnerable and how we can best mitigate impact.”
Category five Cyclone Yasi hit Northern Queensland in February 2011, bringing wind gusts of up to 285 kilometres per hour.
There was only one cyclone-related death despite Yasi being one of the most powerful cyclones in Queensland history.
A 23-year-old man asphyxiated on fumes from a generator he was using while sheltering in a confined space of his home.
Townsville and Cairns were spared the worst, while smaller towns including Tully, Mission Beach, Cardwell, Silkwood and Innisfail were the worst hit.