A new study released on February 22 indicated that infections or herpes which appear during pregnancy might cause autism. Women who experienced infections with genital herpes when pregnant proved to be twice as exposed to a high risk of giving birth to a child with autism compared to women who did not contract any infections.
The new study was recently published by researchers in the mSphere magazine. The survey suggested that inflammation during pregnancy caused by an infection may impair the proper development of the fetus’ brain. Milada Mahic, a researcher at Columbia University and also the lead author of the study, stated that the immune response to herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) of the mother might disrupt the development of the central nervous system of the baby, increasing the risk for autism.
A virus which causes an infection to the mother is also bound to affect the state of health of the child. For example, Zika is one of the most notorious viruses. Nevertheless, there are viruses like rubella and cytomegalovirus which also cause significant congenital disabilities. Dr. Ian Lipkin, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at Columbia, noted that even if viruses affect the fetus, this is not what happens when it comes to autism.
Many of us, when thinking about an infection, we tend to take into account only viruses which attack tissues, damaging cells and killing cells. Nevertheless, Lipkin believes that the mother’s immune response to that particular virus is the one which causes the fetus’ damage. That inflammation which occurs when contracting a virus, the inflammatory chemicals like cytokines, tend to cross the placenta, damaging the development of the baby’s brain.
Lipkin together with his colleagues has analyzed pregnant women in Norway back in the 1990s. They revealed about 442 mothers who had kids with autism and compared them to 464 other women who gave birth to babies in the same month. All these women were tested to check the immune responses to four different viruses which are known to cause congenital disabilities. The viruses were HSV-2, HSV-1, rubella and cytomegalovirus.
All those women who presented a high level of antibodies to HSV-2 during their pregnancy indicated that they have twice as many chances to have a baby which will later be diagnosed with autism. None of the other three viruses appeared to increase the risk of autism.
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