Although the exact causes of autism are still unknown, a new study from researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research discovered a link between hospital-diagnosed bacterial infection during pregnancy and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
To determine a link, if any, between maternal infection during pregnancy and autism risk, the researchers matched records of 407 children with autism and 2,075 children without the disorder. All of the children had been born between 1995 and 1999 and were members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan for at least two years after birth.
Maternal infection during pregnancy is fairly common. Many pregnant women find themselves dealing with urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, vaginal infections, and other infections during pregnancy.
In general, infection during pregnancy is not linked to an increased risk of ASD. However, the researchers did discover that maternal bacterial infections diagnosed in the hospital were associated with an increased risk of the development of ASD in the child.
Lisa A. Croen, PhD, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and senior author of the study, comments on the finding:
“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.
“Infections diagnosed in a hospital setting were more common among mothers of children who developed an ASD compared with mothers of children who did not develop an ASD.”
Pregnant women with bacterial infections such as infections of the genitals, urinary tract, and amniotic fluid that were diagnosed in the hospital had a 58 percent higher risk of giving birth to a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the diagnosis in a hospital with an infection during the second trimester of pregnancy was linked to a three-fold increase of having a child who developed ASD.
The researchers do note that infections diagnosed during a hospitalization in the second trimester were not common among the women and children in the present study. However, in the rare cases that did occur, the risk of autism was significantly increased.
Ousseny Zerbo, PhD, a research fellow with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and the lead author of the study, explains that the link may be the result of more severe maternal infections during pregnancy: “Infections diagnosed in an inpatient setting may represent more severe infections, and these were associated with increased risk of ASD.”
The present study did not investigate the cause of the link between hospital-diagnosed bacterial infection during pregnancy and an increased risk of ASD. However, previous animal studies have shown that immune-system responses to infection 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. It would be prudent for pregnant women to contact their doctor if they suspect an infection,” states Dr. Zerbo.
Based on the findings of this study, women who suspect an infection during pregnancy should contact their health care provider immediately.
Hospital-Diagnosed Maternal Infections Linked to Increased Autism Risk: http://share.kaiserpermanente.org/article/hospital-diagnosed-maternal-infections-linked-to-increased-autism-risk/
Hospital Infection in Pregnancy Tied to Higher Risk of Autism: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270608.php
Baby Feet in Hospital Nursery: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/807053