Bacterial Infections During Pregnancy May Raise Autism Risk
A new study from Kaiser Permanente Division of Research suggests that pregnant women who have a bacterial infection that is diagnosed during hospitalization may be at a greater risk of delivering a child with autism. The study, published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, states that infections (usually of the genitals, urinary tract or amniotic fluid), may lead to a nearly 60 percent greater risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASDs).
During their analysis, researchers matched extensive medical records of 407 children with autism and 2,075 children who did not have autism.
Lisa A. Croen, Ph.D., a research scientist and senior author of the study, told Medical News Today, “Though infections in pregnant women are fairly common, in this study most were not associated with an increased risk of autism. Only bacterial infections diagnosed in the hospital were associated with an increased risk.”
Researchers were quick to add that infections are very common during pregnancy and most don’t lead to autism. In fact, half the women included in the study had at least one infection during their pregnancy. Important to note: the study only uncovered an association between bacterial infections and a child with autism—it did not prove cause-and-effect. Croen emphasizes, “The vast majority of women who have infections have perfectly healthy babies. I don’t want women to be overly concerned if they have a cold or are sick during their pregnancy.”
The researchers found no association between infection and autism when looking at all infections that occurred during the pregnancies studied—however they did find an increased risk involving women who had bacterial infections diagnosed during hospital admission. Researchers deduce those might include more severe infections, which could explain the increased risk of autism (particularly if diagnosed during the second trimester).
Alycia Halladay, senior director of environmental and clinical sciences for Autism Speaks, writes, ”The second trimester of pregnancy tends to be a very critical time. Brain structures are starting to develop, and mis-wiring of the brain can occur at that time.” Both Halladay and Croen concur that it’s possible the mother’s immune system might affect the fetus in some way as it fights off the infection. Halladay stresses the need to wash your hands and stay away from people you know have the flu or some other illness.
- Try not to share forks, cups, and food with young children.
- Wash your hands often when around children. Their saliva and urine might contain a virus. It is likely harmless to them, but it can be dangerous for you and your unborn baby.
- Cook your meat until it’s well done.
- Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it.
- Do not touch or change dirty cat litter.
- Avoid people who have an infection.
- Ask your doctor about group B strep.
And as always, maintaining a good relationship with your doctor is crucial during pregnancy.
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