Hospital Bacterial Infections During Pregnancy Linked to Autism: Study

Researchers may have found a link between maternal bacterial infections during pregnancy and an increased risk of their children developing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

According to the findings of a new study published last week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,, women diagnosed with bacterial infections in the hospital during pregnancy gave birth to children who had a 58% greater risk of developing autism later in life.

Researchers used the Kaiser Permanente Northern California clinical database, recognizing an association between hospital-diagnosed bacterial infections and an increased risk of autism. The study compared 407 children with autism to 2,075 children without autism. Researchers then investigated infections their mothers had during pregnancy between January 1995 and June 1999, and for those who had been members of Kaiser for at least two years following the birth.

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Dr. Ousseny Zerbo, lead author on the study, and his team of researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research found no association between a diagnosis of other infections and autism spectrum disorders, only bacterial infections.

“Our findings indicate that although most infections during pregnancy were not associated with autism in the child, there appears to be some increased risk for autism,” Zerbo said. “It would be prudent for pregnant women to contact their doctor if they suspect an infection.”

The type of infections included bacterial infections of the genitals, urinary tract and amniotic fluid. Multiple infections during pregnancy were also associated with a higher risk of developing ASD.

The infections diagnosed during the second trimester were also associated with a threefold increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.

Prior animal tests have also shown that immune-system responses to infections during pregnancy may influence the neurological development of the fetus. The new findings may support the connection between maternal infection and fetal brain development.

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