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Study: Flu among expectant mothers linked to autistic children

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (

Researchers are treating the news with caution - but in a new study conducted in Denmark, scientists found that children whose mothers had the flu or ran a fever lasting more than a week during pregnancy had an increased risk for autism spectrum disorder. U.S. health officials assure that the new study is "exploratory" in nature.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The study looked at data collected from 97,000 mothers of children born from 1997 through 2003. The study found no association between mothers who reported common respiratory or sinus infections, common colds, urinary tract or genital infections, during pregnancy and autism in their offspring.

However -- children whose mothers reported influenza during pregnancy had twice the risk of being diagnosed with autism before their third birthday. In addition, children whose mothers had a fever for more than seven days had a threefold risk.

Researchers also noted that there was also a small increased risk of autism after the mother's use of various antibiotics during pregnancy. The study did not name or describe the conditions for which the antibiotics were prescribed.

"The study is really exploratory, and more research needs to be done to understand how maternal infections, as well as other risk factors, influence the risk of autism spectrum disorders," Coleen Boyle, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities says. "We need to have more information to get a better sense of what's going on here."

Autism researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of environmental epidemiology at the University of California-Davis MIND Institute says that the findings are "noteworthy."

Hertz-Picciotto was also impressed by the fact that given the study's size that the mothers were interviewed during and shortly after pregnancy, and did not know what the child's outcome would eventually be, henceforth eliminating "recall bias."

Hertz-Picciotto co-authored a study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in May that found fever during pregnancy more than doubled the risk of autism or developmental delay in children.

However, it must be noted that flu during pregnancy was not associated with a greater risk.

"Mothers who reported a fever and reported not taking any medication to reduce fever were at higher risk to deliver a child that later developed autism. On the other hand, if they had a fever and took a medication to reduce fever, their child was not at higher risk," Hertz-Picciotto said in an e-mail.

Flu shots then, are critically important for pregnant women, "both because pregnant women are more likely to develop severe disease compared to non-pregnant women, but because there can also be effects on the baby," Denise Jamieson, chief of CDC's Women's Health and Fertility Branch says.

"Getting a flu shot while you're pregnant protects your baby for up to six months of life," a period when babies are too young to be immunized, she adds: "So it's good protection for the mom and good protection for the baby."

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