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Study Links Autism To Flu, Fever During Pregnancy


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Children may be at increased risk of autism if their mother had the flu or a prolonged fever during pregnancy, a new study suggests.

Researchers spotted the link in a study of nearly 100,000 kids born in Denmark between 1997 and 2003, about 1 percent of whom were found to have autism. The findings were based on data collected from multiple telephone interviews with the children’s mothers and information from a national database on psychiatric disorders.

Overall, researchers from the University of Aarhus in Denmark and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that women who had the flu during pregnancy were two times more likely to have a child with autism. Those odds increased to threefold when the mother had a fever for a week or more, according to the report published in the journal Pediatrics Monday.

But the study carries a note of caution. Researchers behind the report said it is possible that despite the large number of families studied, their conclusions hinge on “chance findings.”

“Ninety-nine percent of women with influenza do not have a child with autism,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Hjordis Osk Atladottir of the University of Aarhus, told Reuters. “If it were me that was pregnant, I wouldn’t do anything different from before, because our research is so early and exploratory.”

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. KA101 says:

    Little more attention to those last two paragraphs, please. I worry that the headline will get repeated and possibly used as anti-vaccine fodder.

  2. Doc Rick says:

    This study does not explain the autism epidemic. As we know from the recent Nature studies, men are passing autism at 4 times the rate of women (O’Roak BJ et al 2012). That means men are driving 80% of autism being passed to children, so we need to shift away from looking at autism being caused after conception.

    About 20 years ago, autism began mysteriously spiking up. Research now points to fragmentation in men’s sperm cells as the major cause (Sanders SJ et al 2012). About 20 years ago, men began carrying radiation-emitting cell phones around in their front pockets, within a few inches of sperm cells. Cell phone radiation causes sperm cell DNA fragmentation (De Iuliis G 2009).

    Women, have him keep his cell phone out of his pockets for 30 days before you try.

  3. annie says:

    Perhaps a silly question… If prolonged fever during pregnancy caused autism, why did it explode just 20 years ago…? It seems like we’ve survived many epidemics in past generations and had terrible fevers, without the autism rates of today. I find this study to be an unsatisfactory explanation…

  4. Adriana says:

    It amazes me that so much money is being spent on research about the causes of autism instead of researching how to improve the lives of autistics who have sensory, communication and other issues.
    Being an autism researcher seems to be the most secure job these days. Even if the results always come with a “caution” alert.

  5. Glen S says:

    “Increased risk” is not synonymous with causation. This is but one factor in a long list of factors

  6. Julie says:

    This is so inconclusive – 99% of women with influenza do not have a child with autism – so we are saying a 1% chance is conclusive! I did not have the flu or fever during pregnancy with my 29 yr old son with aspergers. But when I was pregnant with my now 25 yr old daughter I had a severe bout with the flu lasting almost a week and she had and has no indicators of aspergers or autism. Why are we not looking at genetics? and forget the cell phones people this is not the cause. I do think there is something to be looked at on the male side as my son’s father is suspected of having undiagnosed aspergers as well. In addition my older brother is also undiagnosed as aspergers and has a severly autisitic adult son. This was all before any cell phones and not a direct result of any vaccines. You have to do better than this researchers. Why not look at family genetics? If it was as simple as flu/fever I believe we would have many many more. Perhaps this is an area for genetic counselors to pursue.

  7. Tacitus says:

    There is no autism epidemic. There is just the readjustment to new criteria and an explosion in awareness. The term “epidemic” is fund-raising speak and should not be used with respect to autism.

  8. Heidicompteach says:

    I agree, Julie! Genetic links are there and that is what needs to be studied. My daughter has been diagnosed as PDDNOS but my nephew, never diagnosed, is almost ceratiainly a very high-functioning Aspergers. All these studies about causes after conception or birth are not helping with those who are dealing with this everyday!
    As I talk to families who are affected, most agree that there is most likely a genetic component that is triggered by some event in infancy. The severity of the trigger (in my daugheter’s case a high fever after her 12 month shots + an asthma attack) seems to have caused a fairly severe degree of communication, social, and intellectual impairment.
    The question now is – How can we help her live her life to the utmost? What can we do to help her (and others like her) be contributing members of society with a fulfilling life?
    Let’s see some studies on that!

  9. Yankeegirl says:

    Another red herring study to distract/confuse from the public. Toss it on the pile with the others low value studies like : high altitude, too much rainfall, living too close to a freeway, breastfeeding, not breast feeding. Meanwhile good studies like the link between autism and anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, mitochondrial dysfunction, immune dysfunction, inflammation in the brain and GI get buried. Why is that??

  10. Lynn says:

    In the Fall of 1969 in Honolulu, I ran a high fever with the “Hong Kong flu” during my first trimester of pregnancy with my now 42 year old son. “Aspergers Syndrome” was not a diagnosis during his school days, but he was diagnosed as an adult as having Aspergers. Just wondering if there are other mothers out there who had the Hong Kong Flu and who’s children have autistic traits? Would love to compare notes…

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