Fever Doubles Pregnancy Risk for Autism or Developmental Delay

Sacramento, CA, USA. Pregnant mothers with fevers were twice as likely to have a child with autism or developmental delay than mothers of typically developing children.

Findings from a new study that appears in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders showed that taking anti-pyretic medications to treat fever countered its effect in pregnant women.

The results are based on data from a large, case-control investigation known as the Childhood Autism Risk from  Geneticsand the Environment (CHARGE) Study. Another recent study based on CHARGE data found that mothers who were obese or diabetic had a higher likelihood of having children with autism. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and principal investigator of the CHARGE study, pointed out that fever is produced by acute inflammation — the short-term, natural  immune system reaction to infection or injury — and that chronic inflammation, which no longer serves a beneficial purpose and can damage healthy tissue, may be present in mothers with metabolic abnormalities like diabetes and obesity.

"Since an inflammatory state in the body accompanies obesity and diabetes as well as fever," said Hertz-Picciotto, "the natural question is: Could inflammatory factors play a role in autism?" When people are infected by bacteria or viruses, the body generally reacts by mounting a healing response that involves the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from white blood cells into the bloodstream.

Some cytokines are able to cross the placenta, and therefore could reach the fetal central  nervous system, potentially altering levels of neurotransmitters and brain development.

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