Mom's flu, prolonged fever during pregnancy may be linked to child's autism

Published: Monday, Nov. 12 2012 2:00 p.m. MST

Animal studies "suggest that maternal immune infection produces long-lasting changes in the brain, including those seen in individuals on the autism spectrum," Alycia Halladay, senior director of environmental and clinical sciences at Autism Speaks, told HealthDay reporter Amanda Gardner. "Research suggests specific chemicals, called cytokines, may mediate this effect."

Cytokines, Gardner wrote, are message-carrying cells of the immune system. Atladottir speculated to her that since some cytokines can cross the placental barrier, in this cause they might be "able to alter the release of neurotransmitters and thus affect fetal brain development."

The researchers also pointed out that doctors did not confirm their reports of flu and it's possible that influenza could be mistaken for something else and vice versa.

Regardless, "It is highly recommended that women avoid infection during pregnancy, and there are a variety of very practical ways to decrease the likelihood of this," Paul Patterson, who studies the immune system and brain development at the California Institute of Technology, told Reuters.

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