A recent study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health may have discovered that a fever during pregnancy could increase the chance of autism in children later. Another factor in the risk for autism was in which trimester the illness struck and how often the mother had fevers. The researchers studied information on nearly 100,000 children born in between for ten years in Norway. Out of the group, almost 600 children were classified as being on the autism spectrum. The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder where a child’s social interaction, verbal, and nonverbal communications are impaired. Another characteristic is restricted and repetitive behavior. Signs of the disorder manifest at around the first two years of the child’s life, developing gradually. Researchers believe that autism is caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Autism can vary from child to child with no known cure.
According to CBS News, just over 15,000 of the 100,000 mothers reported having fevers during pregnancy. Primary research author and director of translational research at the Center for Infection and Immunity, Dr. Mady Horning said that reports were found of mothers having fevers in “four-week intervals through the entire pregnancy.” Using this data, the team of researchers was able to link it to the autism data collected through a “patient registry.” Dr. Horning stated that were not many studies done on fever and pregnancy.
A fever during the second trimester proved to be “significant and prominent,” CBS News reported. During the second trimester, if a pregnant woman came down with a fever, the risk for autism “increased by 40 percent” and in the third trimester this risk was “15 percent higher.” But one significant finding stood out among the rest: multiple fevers during the first trimester had the greatest impact on the risk skyrocketing to “over 300 percent.”
Medications taken to reduce their fevers was also taken into consideration. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen were the over-the-counter drug of choice. While acetaminophen did not lessen the autism risk, ibuprofen users had “no cases of autism.” CBS News reported that the study “didn’t prove that a fever during pregnancy causes autism,” but knowing which medication to fight an illness may be helpful. The researchers wrote in Molecular Psychiatry that they did not address the “microbial causes of maternal fever and immune activation.” Speaking to USA Today, W. Ian Lipkin, co-author of the study and epidemiology professor said that any future studies need to focus on finding and “preventing” the mother’s fevers that “may contribute to autism spectrum disorder.”
By Cheryl Werber