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Lisa Kelly

Curator Kids Health Australia

BA Marketing and Mother of Two

WELLBEING

A Fever During Pregnancy May Increase Your Child's Risk of Autism

By Lisa Kelly

Posted  June 19 2017 | 0 Shares

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Suffering a fever during pregnancy, particularly during the second trimester, is linked to an increased risk of autism in children.

According to a Columbia University research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, autism has previously been linked to prenatal exposure to a wide range of infections. Specifically, researchers wanted to find out whether higher temperatures during pregnancy — and attempts to lower those temperatures with medication — played a role in an autism diagnosis years later.

The researchers studied nearly 100,000 mothers and their children born between 1999 and 2009 in Norway. Around 16% of the women reported having a fever at least once during their pregnancies. 583 of the children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Read: How diet intervention helped my child’s autism recovery

According to the research, mothers who reported fevers at least once during their pregnancies had a 34% increased risk of having children with autism, compared to mothers who reported no fevers. More notable is the fact that kids whose moms had fevers during their second trimester had a 40% increased risk of being on the spectrum.

This may sound scary to mothers-to-be, but the lead author of the papers says it’s important to remember that overall risk is still very low. According to Dr. Mady Hornig, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, only about 1 in 62 children developed autism. This is true even among mothers who had three or more fevers after the 12-week mark. By comparison, about 1 in every 178 children of mothers who never had a fever during pregnancy were diagnosed to be on the spectrum.

Doctors don’t know exactly why a mother’s fever might boost her child’d autism risk. However, Hornig points out that the second trimester is a crucial time for brain development. This is also the time when a mother’s immune system is somewhat “turned down,” so her body won’t reject the growing fetus. Together, Hornig says, these factors could make her child more vulnerable to developmental disruption.

Read: Catch the good! A different approach to managing autism behaviour

It’s important to note that the study was observational, which means it was unable to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between prenatal fever and autism. As a follow-up, researchers are now analyzing blood samples from mothers and babies to determine what types of infections or immune responses from mothers may be associated with greater risks than others.

“If we can figure that out, we can think more about how to prevent those specific infections during pregnancy,” Hornig says. She also adds that it’s equally important to know how to treat fever in pregnant women.

The study did find that children whose mothers took acetaminophen to lower fevers during pregnancy had a slightly lower risk of autism than those who didn’t take anything. However, the difference is so small that it’s hard to tell whether it really has a meaningful effect in preventing autism.

*This article was condensed and adapted from Time magazine, in which it first appeared.

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 19 June 2017 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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A Fever During Pregnancy May Increase Your Child’s Risk of Autism

WELLBEING

By Lisa Kelly

Suffering a fever during pregnancy, particularly during the second trimester, is linked to an increased risk of autism in children.

According to a Columbia University research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, autism has previously been linked to prenatal exposure to a wide range of infections. Specifically, researchers wanted to find out whether higher temperatures during pregnancy — and attempts to lower those temperatures with medication — played a role in an autism diagnosis years later.

The researchers studied nearly 100,000 mothers and their children born between 1999 and 2009 in Norway. Around 16% of the women reported having a fever at least once during their pregnancies. 583 of the children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Read: How diet intervention helped my child’s autism recovery

According to the research, mothers who reported fevers at least once during their pregnancies had a 34% increased risk of having children with autism, compared to mothers who reported no fevers. More notable is the fact that kids whose moms had fevers during their second trimester had a 40% increased risk of being on the spectrum.

This may sound scary to mothers-to-be, but the lead author of the papers says it’s important to remember that overall risk is still very low. According to Dr. Mady Hornig, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, only about 1 in 62 children developed autism. This is true even among mothers who had three or more fevers after the 12-week mark. By comparison, about 1 in every 178 children of mothers who never had a fever during pregnancy were diagnosed to be on the spectrum.

Doctors don’t know exactly why a mother’s fever might boost her child’d autism risk. However, Hornig points out that the second trimester is a crucial time for brain development. This is also the time when a mother’s immune system is somewhat “turned down,” so her body won’t reject the growing fetus. Together, Hornig says, these factors could make her child more vulnerable to developmental disruption.

Read: Catch the good! A different approach to managing autism behaviour

It’s important to note that the study was observational, which means it was unable to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between prenatal fever and autism. As a follow-up, researchers are now analyzing blood samples from mothers and babies to determine what types of infections or immune responses from mothers may be associated with greater risks than others.

“If we can figure that out, we can think more about how to prevent those specific infections during pregnancy,” Hornig says. She also adds that it’s equally important to know how to treat fever in pregnant women.

The study did find that children whose mothers took acetaminophen to lower fevers during pregnancy had a slightly lower risk of autism than those who didn’t take anything. However, the difference is so small that it’s hard to tell whether it really has a meaningful effect in preventing autism.

*This article was condensed and adapted from Time magazine, in which it first appeared.

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 19 June 2017
references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

  • Doc id

  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

make a comment

0 comments

more articles by Lisa Kelly

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latest articles

view more

MEET THE EXPERTS

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