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Int J Epidemiol. 2012 Jun;41(3):589-92. doi: 10.1093/ije/dys070. Epub 2012 May 13.

Neurological damage to the fetus resulting from severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy.


Endemic cretinism is characterised by multiple neurological defects including deaf-mutism, diplegia, squint, and mental deficiency. The condition is widely prevalent in the Highlands of New Guinea in association with severe iodine deficiency. Previous studies have shown that iodised oil provides a very satisfactory correction of severe iodine deficiency in New Guinea. A controlled trial on the use of intramuscular iodised oil in the prevention of endemic cretinism was carried out in the Western Highlands of New Guinea and involved a population of approximately 8000. Subsequent follow-up over four years revealed 26 endemic cretins out of a total of 534 children born to mothers who had not received iodised oil; the mothers of 5 of these cretins were pregnant at the start of the trial. In comparison, 7 cases of endemic cretinism occurred among 498 children born to mothers who had been treated with iodised oil; in 6 of these 7 cases, the mother was pregnant when the trial commenced. It is concluded that intramuscular iodised oil is effective in the prevention of endemic cretinism and that, for it to be effective, it should be given prior to conception. This suggests that severe iodine deficiency in the mother produces neurological damage during fetal development.

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