MONDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Children of mothers who contract the flu or have a prolonged fever while pregnant may have a very slight increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, a new study suggests.
However, women who have had lasting fever or the flu during pregnancy should not be overly concerned by these results, as the risk seen was extremely small.
Mild infections were not associated with an increased risk of autism, Danish researchers found. Antibiotic use was associated only with a very low, speculative risk, according to the study published online Nov. 12 and in the December print issue of Pediatrics.
"[This] study is purely explorative and it is far too soon to suggest any clinical implications," said study lead author Dr. Hjordis Osk Atladottir, of the Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine at University of Aarhus.
"Indeed," she added, "the study shows that around 99 percent of women experiencing influenza, fever or taking antibiotics during pregnancy do not have children with autism."
Having an infection triggers the body's immune system, setting off a reaction intended to thwart the danger.
This is good when it comes to defending the body, but studies have suggested that activation of the mother's immune system may harm a fetus's neurodevelopment.
No one knows exactly why this may be the case but, Atladottir said, "previous studies suggest that the activation of the maternal immune system affects the levels of certain cytokines in the maternal blood."
Cytokines are message-carrying cells of the immune system. Some cytokines can cross the placental barrier and, here, may be "able to alter the release of neurotransmitters and thus affect fetal brain development," Atladottir said. She emphasized that this idea is purely speculative.
Another autism expert discussed the possibility that in
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