Prenatal exposure to Hurricane Maria is associated with an altered infant nasal microbiome

WashU Affiliated Authors: Sandra Lee (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Immunology), Ai Zhang (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Immunology), Lijuan Cao (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Immunology), Leran Wang (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology), Leyao Wang (Dept. of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Immunology)


Background: Prenatal adverse exposures have been associated with increased risks of development of respiratory diseases in children. The infant nasal microbiome is an important mechanism and indicator.

Objective: Our aim was to characterize and compare the nasal microbiome of infants who were in utero and exposed to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico during 2017 with that of infants who were conceived at least 5 months after the hurricane as controls.

Methods: We recruited 63 vaginally born infants, 29 of whom were in the exposure group and 34 of whom were in the control group. Nasal swab samples were collected and analyzed by using 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing at the community and taxon levels, respectively.

Results: Infants in the exposure group were more likely to harbor a Staphylococcus-Streptococcus–dominant microbial community in their nose. The richness and diversity of the microbiome was significantly higher in the exposure group than in the control group. In the exposure group, the bacterial genera RhodocistaAzospirillumMassilia, Herbaspirillum, Aquabacterium, and Pseudomonas were enriched, whereas Corynebacterium and Ralstonia were depleted. Food insecurity due to Hurricane Maria was associated with an increase in Pseudomonas in the infant nasal microbiome.

Conclusion: Infants who were exposed to Hurricane Maria during gestation had an altered nasal microbiome, with a higher prevalence of environmental bacteria. More research is needed to evaluate the long-term impacts of extreme weather events occurring in the prenatal stage on a child’s nasal microbiome and respiratory health.

Citation or DOI: