updated 3/18/2004 2:40:30 PM ET 2004-03-18T19:40:30

The widely used allergy drug Claritin does not cause genital birth defects in boys when taken by their mothers during early pregnancy, according to a government study released Thursday.

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In a nationwide study, mothers who took Claritin were no more likely than other women to have boys with hypospadias, a defect in which the urethra opening is along the shaft of the penis, instead of at the tip.

The study contradicts Swedish research in 2002 that said Claritin use doubled the risk of having a boy with the defect.

“We do feel pretty confident there is no association between loratadine and hypospadias,” said Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who led the study.

A pregnant woman still should discuss with her doctor whether to take Claritin or any other medication, Reefhuish said.

Four out of every 1,000 boys have hypospadias and require surgery to correct it, according to the CDC.

The study looked at nearly 2,000 mothers of infants with and without the birth defect between 1997 and 2001.

“It’s always a positive thing when a medication we use for many years is safe,” said Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and asthma specialist at New York University Medical Center. “It’s reassuring to people, millions of allergy sufferers, who take this medication.”

The allergy medication is one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs. When the study was conducted, Claritin was the best-selling prescription allergy medicine and was used by 3 percent of women of childbearing age. The FDA approved the drug for over-the-counter sales in 2002.

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