Published: Thu, June 15, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Fever during pregnancy increases risk of autism in kids

Fever during pregnancy increases risk of autism in kids

Suffering from a fever during pregnancy could raise the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children, according to a study led by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, US.

According to researchers, the effect was most pronounced in the second trimester, raising odds for ASD by 40% and the risk further increased by over 300% for the children of women reporting three or more fevers after the twelfth week of pregnancy.

While the risk of having a child with autism increased across the board for women who reported a fever while pregnant, the risk was highest among women reporting a fever during the second trimester.

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For this study the researcher team looked at 95,754 children born at 32 weeks gestation or later children in Norway between 1999 and 2009. Although, there were no cases of ASD were reported among the children of mothers, who took ibuprofen - a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. The risk was 40% when fevers occurred in the second trimester. There are thousands of women who get an episode of fever or flu during their pregnancy, but do not have children with autism. Having a similar baseline rate of fever means that these rates of autism were not a result of increased number of fevers among pregnant mothers included in the study. Results of the study appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The study is the most robust to date to explore the risk of ASD associated with fevers across the entire span of pregnancy, and of the capacity of two different types of commonly used anti-fever medications-acetaminophen and ibuprofen-to address that risk. The researchers noted that out of these kids, at least 600 of them were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Babies exposed to maternal fever prenatally are more prone to develop autism, a recent study has claimed. Three or more fevers seemed to exacerbate that risk, but only a small number of women had that many fevers so the researchers weren't sure if the data was significant. Lipkin, who took part in the study, also worked on research published earlier this year linking herpes infections with autism.

Since fever is caused by acute inflammation, the profound difference in risk of ASD is consistent with the idea that a longer exposure of the fetus to an inflammatory environment in the womb can cause a greater disruption of brain development, said Hornig.

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A 2013 study found that women who had the flu while they were pregnant were twice as likely to have a child later diagnosed with autism. Dr. Hornig emphasized that this was not a simple explanation for autism. Then the children were followed up to see which ones developed autism.

ASD is a complex, wide-spectrum disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact with others. There is now no cure for ASD and treatment involves a wide range of specialist education and behavioural programmes that can help improve symptoms.

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