Pregnant women who catch flu or have a fever that lasts over one week have a higher risk of giving birth to a baby with autism.
The authors gathered and analyzed data on a population-based cohort of 96,736 children, all of them were born in Denmark from 1997 to 2003.
Their mothers were asked what illnesses, especially infections and fevers they had during their pregnancies and the early days after giving birth. They were also asked about any antibiotic use during those periods.
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The following maternal infections were not linked to autism risk in their offspring:
- Respiratory infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Genital infections
- Sinus infections
The following infections or conditions during pregnancy were linked a higher autism risk in their baby:
- Influenza (flu) – pregnant mothers who caught the flu had twice the risk of giving birth to a baby who eventually was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder before the age of three years
- Fever – pregnant mothers who said they had a fever that lasted for at least one week had three times the risk of giving birth to a baby who eventually was diagnosed with a autism before the age of 3
- Antibiotic usage – pregnant mothers who took antibiotics had a slightly higher risk of having a baby with autism
The authors emphasized that their findings need to be backed up with a more thoroughly controlled study. Theirs had certain methodologic limitations, they added.
Lead researcher, Hjordis Osk Atladottir, MD, PhD, said that women who catch the flu or have a fever during pregnancy should not be alarmed by these findings. Approximately 98% of those who did catch flu or had a lasting fever gave birth to children with no autism.