Researchers from the UC Davis MIND Institute have linked untreated fever during a mother’s pregnancy with increased risk of autism or developmental delays in her child. In a large study including detailed information on participants, they found that women who reported fever had 2.12 times higher odds of having a child with autism and 2.5 times higher odds of having a child with developmental delay than women who reported no fever during pregnancy, or those who took anti-fever medication.
The study involved more than 1,100 women and their babies.
“If someone has fever during pregnancy they should take it seriously,” says lead study author Ousseny Zerbo, now a postdoctoral researcher with Kaiser Permanente, adding that this means taking over-the-counter anti-fever medication, and seeking medical attention if the fever persists. “Particularly during pregnancy, a lot of people don’t want to take any medication,” Zerbo says.
But treating fever also treats the acute inflammation that accompanies it, and this could be the connection between fever and autism risk. Another recent study based on the same data found that mothers who were obese or had diabetes – conditions associated with chronic inflammation in the body – were also more likely to have children with autism.
Both studies were based on data from the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study, which collected information on a large group of California children ages 2 to 5.
Infection with bacteria or viruses triggers a healing response that releases inflammatory elements from white blood cells into the bloodstream. Called cytokines, these elements are able to cross the placenta, and could impact a developing baby’s brain. “I think we need to do a lot more study regarding inflammation during pregnancy,” says Zerbo.
The study was published online May 23 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.