BREAKING NEWS : One man exonerated, a second charged with murder Full Story

Exposure to infection in the womb increases risk of autism and depression, study says

Children born to women who had a severe infection during pregnancy, such as sepsis, flu or pneumonia, show an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder and...

Posted: Mar 6, 2019 1:17 PM

Children born to women who had a severe infection during pregnancy, such as sepsis, flu or pneumonia, show an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder and depression, new research finds. Yet those exposed to even a relatively minor urinary tract infection in utero also experienced an increased risk of such disorders.

Women should "make sure you have your influenza vaccination in pregnancy," said Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf, co-author of the study and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Although the flu shot is safe for pregnant women, coming down with the illness during pregnancy "can be very dangerous for your baby's mental health and brain development," she said.

Autism and depression, not bipolar disorder

Adams Waldorf and her colleagues analyzed patient data from Sweden's national health registry, specifically looking at information "for the entire population of pregnant women that were hospitalized between 1973 and 2014," she said. "And then we had up to 41 years of follow-up on those children that stayed in Sweden."

In total, they looked at the records of 1,791,520 children and, using hospitalization codes, identified those who'd been exposed to their mother's infection in utero.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The results, Adams Waldorf said, were "very surprising."

Children born to mothers with an infection during pregnancy had a 79% increased risk of an autism diagnosis and a 24% increased risk of a depression diagnosis as adults, the researchers found. They also saw "an increased risk of suicide in those children that had been exposed to infections in utero," Adams Waldorf said, adding that this association made the depression findings "much stronger."

The increased risk level for autism and depression was detected regardless of whether fetal exposure was to a severe infection -- such as sepsis, flu, pneumonia, meningitis or encephalitis, chorioamnionitis (an infection of the placental tissues) or pyelonephritis (a severe kidney infection) -- or a urinary tract infection.

No increased risk of bipolar disorder or psychosis, including schizophrenia, was seen among those exposed to infection during fetal development, the study showed.

"We need more research into understanding the inflammation that occurs in the urinary tract infection and how it might impact the fetus," Adams Waldorf said. More research is also needed on areas of the fetal brain that are extremely vulnerable to damage from infection and inflammation.

"The hippocampus is a very vulnerable part of the brain that is targeted by Zika virus infection but may be vulnerable to other infections as well," she said, explaining that this brain region "plays a key role in social and emotional functioning."

Sensitive periods in brain development

Margaret McCarthy, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the study is "astonishing" in terms of both the number of subjects and the length of time. "To my knowledge, this is the largest and most comprehensive study of in utero infections and the health outcomes for the offspring," said McCarthy, who had no role in the new research.

The fact that both severe infection and urinary tract infection conferred the same level of risk "highlights that there's something very subtle that can be very profound in brain development, and it probably has to do with sensitive periods in brain development that we don't understand yet," she said.

In her own research on sex differences and brain development, she found that a lot of immune system signaling "sculpts" the male brain during development. "And we have speculated that this increases their risk for neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorders like ADHD, autism, et cetera." Yet, she added, studies have shown that both boosting inflammatory molecules (due to an illness or infection) or dampening them all the way down (by treating an illness or infection with certain medicines) may have deleterious effects on brain development.

"Brain development is really complicated, and things that we think are relatively benign sometimes aren't, because we still don't understand just a lot of the basic signaling molecules that are involved," she said.

Dr. Alan S. Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center, said in an email that "overall, the investigators have done a commendable job." However, he also noted that the "findings could also be influenced by treatment-seeking behaviors."

A previous study from Taiwan showed that treatment for infection in the third trimester was related to autism risk, explained Brown, who was not involved in the new study.

"Starting in the 1990s, we demonstrated that prenatal exposure to several pathogens including rubella, influenza and toxoplasmosis are related to risk of schizophrenia," he said of his own research. "In more recent work, we showed that prenatal influenza was related to bipolar disorder."

Brown believes the new study provides more evidence for "relationships between prenatal infection and autism and opens up a potential new avenue of exploration regarding prenatal infection and depression."

McCarthy said, "I don't think pregnant women should panic. Try to avoid any kind of infection; avoid it if you can, and if you do have to treat it, treat it judiciously."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 119066

Reported Deaths: 3612
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21563768
Lake10745324
Elkhart6734112
St. Joseph6679115
Allen6364205
Hamilton4965109
Vanderburgh384231
Hendricks2779124
Monroe267137
Tippecanoe259013
Johnson2362125
Clark226757
Porter222447
Delaware201162
Cass19589
Vigo187928
Madison171475
LaPorte151941
Warrick140743
Floyd140464
Howard133964
Kosciusko127117
Bartholomew119357
Marshall102124
Dubois100919
Boone99746
Grant96636
Hancock94843
Noble92932
Henry82226
Jackson77610
Wayne77314
Morgan73940
Shelby68329
Daviess68129
Dearborn67928
LaGrange64711
Clinton63414
Harrison59824
Putnam59011
Gibson5455
Knox5379
Lawrence51829
Montgomery51321
DeKalb49111
White48814
Decatur46139
Miami4394
Greene42936
Fayette42314
Jasper4032
Steuben3977
Scott39311
Posey3541
Sullivan33812
Jennings31712
Franklin31525
Clay3105
Ripley3108
Orange28724
Whitley2876
Carroll28013
Adams2773
Wabash2758
Starke2737
Washington2702
Wells2694
Spencer2683
Jefferson2523
Huntington2503
Fulton2462
Tipton22922
Randolph2238
Perry22213
Jay1920
Newton17411
Owen1711
Martin1690
Pike1691
Rush1584
Vermillion1320
Fountain1302
Blackford1223
Pulaski1141
Crawford1100
Parke1072
Brown1033
Benton860
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren411
Unassigned0227

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 152907

Reported Deaths: 4783
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin27283615
Cuyahoga17603657
Hamilton13340321
Montgomery7993166
Lucas7377364
Butler6151112
Summit5393252
Warren313649
Mahoning3114282
Marion311447
Stark2946175
Pickaway268445
Lorain234286
Delaware232821
Fairfield214654
Licking196063
Columbiana195180
Wood194273
Trumbull1921132
Clark185341
Clermont176123
Lake166051
Greene153634
Medina149339
Miami147652
Allen147372
Portage117766
Mercer113919
Erie96047
Tuscarawas94320
Wayne94268
Richland94119
Ross90426
Madison85512
Darke81144
Athens7402
Geauga73349
Hancock73110
Belmont72427
Lawrence68622
Shelby66910
Ashtabula66248
Auglaize62511
Putnam62523
Sandusky58720
Huron5727
Union5512
Scioto5287
Seneca49514
Ottawa47230
Muskingum4553
Preble44716
Holmes3999
Jefferson3424
Henry33715
Defiance33212
Champaign3143
Logan3143
Clinton30512
Perry3039
Fulton2991
Brown2923
Knox28915
Jackson2667
Washington26323
Morrow2622
Hardin25713
Ashland2484
Crawford2486
Coshocton23511
Fayette2346
Highland2313
Williams2163
Wyandot21512
Pike2040
Gallia19713
Meigs17711
Guernsey1748
Hocking1679
Carroll1527
Adams1374
Van Wert1283
Paulding1130
Monroe11018
Harrison643
Morgan500
Vinton483
Noble350
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 42°
Angola
43° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 40°
Huntington
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 41°
Decatur
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 44°
Van Wert
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 44°
More Showers Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events