In the News: Does Influenza or Fever during pregnancy contribute to autism?

November 14, 2012


By Lisa Ackerman

A new study has found that women who had influenza while pregnant were twice as likely to have a child later diagnosed with autism. Those who had a fever lasting a week or longer -- perhaps caused by influenza or maybe by something else -- were three times as likely to have an autistic child.


Cited in the study:

“The study of 96,000 children in Denmark raises as many questions as it answers. But it fits in with a growing body of evidence that suggests that, in at least some cases, something is going on with a mother’s immune system during pregnancy that affects the developing child’s brain. Health officials said the finding reinforces their recommendations that pregnant women should make sure to get flu shots.”

This study may be onto a good theory. For your reference, here are recent blog articles included in the TACAnowblog about the immune system and pregnancy. This topic is important, so I encourage you to read these recent studies from July and August 2012:

Another piece titled “Can you prevent autism?” followed the immune articles above in August 2012:  This prevention thread also brought into the discussion the topic of infections, viruses and autism – especially during pregnancy.

The work from Dr. Patterson reported:

Dr Patterson's book Infectious Behavior: Brain-Immune Connections in Autism, Schizophrenia and Depression and his blog go into more detail about his thinking on autism, inflammation and what women can do. He told Yahoo! Shine that his research in animals has shown that "activating the mother's immune system artificially has the same effect on the offspring as the actual flu infection," a finding which implies questions about the safety of vaccination during pregnancy. "Getting a flu shot is controversial." Dr. Judy Van de Water Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine Davis, CA confirms (1).

My questions based on the new Denmark study of influenza and fever linked to autism include:

  • The study concludes that 1% of those surveyed that had influenza or fever during pregnancy had a child that developed autism.  Does the study truly make a finding or just point to the rate of autism?
  • Are the conclusions correct? If the study cites surveys of pregnant women based on a questionnaire, is it accurate? (For years, patients’ reports of influenza have been often confused with colds; therefore misreported as the influenza.) There is a way to test for influenza to confirm the diagnosis and this should be a large consideration in future studies.
  • Every year the flu shot is recommended for all populations and each year there is always a twist. (Bird flu, swine flu, and now just any flu causes autism?) Is this the new story to keep the flu vaccine relevant?

Getting or not getting a flu vaccine has been argued for decades since their inception. What can a family do? Flu prevention protocols that do not include the flu vaccine have always been available. Here are some ways to build your immune system and hopefully avoid the flu:

We would like to see a full study, including specifics on its usage and if it is possibly associated to autism; not just a survey.  My conclusion is more research is needed before we jump to a conclusion.



Dr Judy Van de Water biography: