(HealthDay News) — Maternal infections, especially genital and urinary tract infections, during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk of childhood leukemia in offspring, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers conducted a population-based cohort study using data for all live births in Denmark between 1978 and 2015 to examine the association between maternal infection during pregnancy and childhood leukemia among offspring. The findings were validated using Swedish registry data for all live births between 1988 and 2014.

A total of 2,222,797 children were included in the study. The researchers found that 1307 children were diagnosed with leukemia during the approximately 27 million person-years of follow-up.

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Compared with the offspring of mothers without infection, children born to mothers with infection during pregnancy had a significantly increased risk of leukemia (adjusted hazard ratio [HR], 1.35; 95% CI, 1.04-1.77). The risk of childhood leukemia was further increased in association with maternal genital infections (HR, 2.42; 95% CI, 1.50-3.92) and urinary tract infections (HR, 1.65; 95% CI, 1.15-2.36).

There was no association observed for respiratory tract, digestive, or other infections. In addition, there was no association between maternal infection and brain tumors, lymphoma, or other childhood cancers.

“Given that little is known about the etiology of childhood leukemia, these findings suggest an important direction for research on the etiology of childhood leukemia as well as development of potential preventive measures,” the study authors wrote.

One author disclosed financial ties to the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

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