Study suggests increased autism risk linked to hospital-diagnosed maternal infections

A recent study suggested women diagnosed with bacterial infection during a hospitalization had a 58 percent greater risk of having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Second trimester diagnosed infections were associated with children having more than a three-fold increased risk of developing ASD.

According to a Kaiser Permanente study published Dec. 23 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, there was an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children associated with hospital diagnosed maternal bacterial infections during pregnancy.

The study included infants born between January 1995 and June 1999 who remained members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan for at least two years following birth and included 407 children with autism and 2,075 matched children who did not have autism.

This new evidence shows a role of infection in autism risk and points to areas for further examination.  Lisa A. Croen, PhD, research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and senior author of the study said bacterial infections diagnosed during a hospitalization (including of the genitals, urinary tract and amniotic fluid) had a 58 percent greater risk of having a child with an ASD. Though not very common in any of the mothers who participated in the study (1.5 percent of mothers of a child with ASD vs. 0.5 percent of mothers of a child without ASD), infections diagnosed during a hospitalization in the second trimester were associated with children having more than a three-fold increased risk of developing ASD.

“Though infections in pregnant women are fairly common, in this study most were not associated with an increased risk of autism,” said Croen. Only bacterial infections diagnosed in a hospital setting was more common among mothers of children who developed an ASD compared with mothers of children who did not develop an ASD.

Ousseny Zerbo, PhD, research fellow with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research stated maternal infections may influence autism, but risk has not been firmly established, Zerbo said animal tests have shown that immune-system responses to infections during pregnancy may influence the neurological development of the fetus. “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.”

Credit: © photographmd / Fotolia

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