Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Exposure to Infection in Pregnancy May Increase Risk of Autism, Depression

Autism spectrum disorder and depression were more common in Swedish children and adults born to mothers who had experienced infections during pregnancy while hospitalized, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The study is one of the first to evaluate a generalized effect of infection and inflammation during pregnancy on a broad spectrum of psychiatric disorders, wrote the authors.

“The developmental origins of mental illness are incompletely understood,” wrote Benjamin al-Haddad, M.D., M.Sc., Ph.D., of the Seattle Children’s Hospital and University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues. “Maternal and fetal inflammatory responses to infection may alter fetal neurodevelopment, as suggested in some children with autism.”

The researchers used population-based registries to observe approximately one million children born between 1973 and 2014 in Sweden for up to 41 years. Infection and psychiatric diagnoses were derived using codes from hospitalizations. Hospitalization categories for pregnant women included any infection, severe infections, and urinary tract infections (UTIs) to further investigate whether the magnitude of risk to children differed by the type and severity of infection.

The risks of autism and depression increased 79% and 24%, respectively, among children and adults exposed to any maternal infection during pregnancy. Similar results were obtained for exposure to severe infections and UTIs, suggesting that type and severity of infection have no effect on risk of developing these conditions. No evidence was found for increased risk of bipolar disorder or psychosis.

“Our findings amplify the urgency to better understand the role of maternal infection during pregnancy on fetal brain development and suggest that prevention of infection (e.g., influenza vaccination) or anti-inflammatory therapies may be important strategies for the primary prevention of some portion of autism and depression,” the researchers wrote.

For related information, see the American Journal of Psychiatry article “Association of Maternal Insecticide Levels With Autism in Offspring From a National Birth Cohort.”

(Image: Mikumi/


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