The findings of new research suggests that infections during pregnancy could increase the risk of a child being born with autism and depression.
Expecting mothers who are ill with the flu, pneumonia, sepsis meningitis, encephalitis, chorioamniotis, pyelonephritis, or even a urinary tract infections, faced a higher risk of giving birth to a child who later developed autism or depression, according to a study published this week in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Swedish researchers evaluated data on nearly 1.8 million children born between 1973 and 2014, which were observed for up to 41 years. Researchers also compared hospital data and medical codes to determine infection incidence and infection type among pregnant mothers.
Exposure to any infection increased the risk of autism by 80%, and increased the risk of depression by 24%, according to the findings.
The data from the Swedish Death Registry also indicated there was an increased risk of suicide among individuals exposed to pregnancy infection. However, there was no data linking infection during pregnancy and increased risk of bipolar disorder or psychosis.
A similar study published in 2017 indicated women who had the herpes virus during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to children who had autism. Those children had twice the risk of autism, especially among boys.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability. Children with autism often experience problems with social interaction, communication, and have repetitive and restrictive behaviors.
Recent research indicates autism diagnoses are on the rise. Autism has increased 150% since 2000. Now, one in 59 children are on the spectrum.
Other studies have linked aerial pesticide exposure during pregnancy to increased risk of autism and other developmental delays.
“These findings suggest that fetal exposure to a maternal infection while hospitalized increased the risk for autism and depression, but not bipolar or psychosis, during the child’s life,” the researchers concluded. “These results emphasize the importance of avoiding infections during pregnancy, which may impart subtle fetal brain injuries contributing to development of autism and depression.”
Researchers warn it is important to focus on preventing infections during pregnancy. They recommend flu shots and indicate they are considered safe for pregnant women and can help prevent infection.