Autism risk linked to fever during pregnancy

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Prenatal exposure to maternal fever during the second trimester raised odds of autism spectrum disorder by 40 per cent.

Fever during pregnancy may raise the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study published in Molecular Psychiatry. ASD risk was increased by 34 per cent when mothers reported fever at any time during pregnancy, and by 40 per cent in the second trimester. Risk of ASD was increased by over 300 per cent among children of women who reported three or more fevers after the 12th week of pregnancy.

Risks were minimally mitigated when women used acetaminophen for fever in the second trimester. Although there were no cases of ASD when mothers used ibuprofen, the sample was too small to draw conclusions.

Analysis did not indicate an association between risk and maternally-reported symptoms of infection in individual organ systems. An ongoing study is testing blood samples collected at mid-pregnancy and at birth to explore the possible role of specific infectious agents.

“Our results suggest a role for gestational maternal infection and innate immune responses to infection in the onset of at least some cases of autism spectrum disorder,” said first author Mady Hornig, associate professor of epidemiology and director of translational research at Columbia University.

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