THURSDAY, Jan. 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women who
have a bacterial infection that's diagnosed during hospitalization
may be at greater risk of delivering a child with autism, a new
These infections -- usually of the genitals, urinary tract or
amniotic fluid -- may lead to a nearly 60 percent greater risk of
having a child with autism spectrum disorder, the researchers said
in a paper published recently in the
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
But, the researchers added, such infections are very common
during pregnancy and most don't lead to autism. Half the women
included in the study had at least one infection during their
pregnancy, regardless of whether their child is autistic. And the
study only uncovered an association between bacterial infections
and a child with autism -- it did not prove cause-and-effect.
"The vast majority of women who have infections have perfectly healthy babies," said senior study author Lisa Croen, a research scientist with Kaiser Permanente in California. "I don't want women to be overly concerned if they have a cold or are sick during their pregnancy."
The study used Kaiser's extensive medical records to compare the
mothers of more than 400 autistic children against the mothers of
nearly 2,100 healthy children. The infants were all born between
January 1995 and June 1999.
The researchers found no association between infection and
autism when looking at all infections that occurred during the
pregnancies studied. But they did find an increased risk involving
women who had bacterial infections diagnosed during a hospital
admission, Croen said.
The researchers said infections diagnosed during a
hospitalization might represent more severe infections, which could
explain the increased risk of autism.
In particular, infections diagnosed during the second trimester
were linked to a threefold increased risk of autism, the study
"The second trimester of pregnancy tends to be a very critical time," said Alycia Halladay, senior director of environmental and clinical sciences for Autism Speaks. "Brain structures are starting to develop, and miswiring of the brain can occur at that time."
There are a couple of ways bacterial infection could affect
children during gestation, Halladay and Croen said.
The bacteria itself might have some unknown effect, they said.
Another possibility is that the mother's immune system might affect
the fetus in some way as it fights off the infection.
Halladay said this research underscores the importance of
staying healthy and avoiding infections when you are pregnant.
"Wash your hands and stay away from people you know have the flu or some other illness," Halladay said. "These are things that ob-gyns tell you to do anyway. It's consistent with clinical care for women who are pregnant or are of childbearing age and planning to get pregnant."
Women also should make sure to maintain a good relationship with
their doctor, Croen said.
"If they aren't feeling well, they should consult their doctor about the best way to take care of themselves so they can have the healthiest pregnancy," she said.
U.S. National Institute of Mental Healthfor more
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