New knowledge about the link between infection during pregnancy and autism

Infections in pregnant women have been linked to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism, in the child later in life. But it does not seem to be the infections themselves that cause autism, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden show in a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“Our results can reassure expectant parents by indicating that infections during pregnancy may not pose as great a risk to the baby’s brain as previously thought,” says Håkan Karlsson, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet and the study’s senior author.

Previous studies have shown a link between infections in the expectant mother during pregnancy and an increased risk of neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism or intellectual disability, in the child later in life.

But they have not been able to say whether the mother’s exposure to infection is truly the cause, or whether other factors are behind this link. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet have now studied this in more detail.

The current study is based on data on more than 500,000 children born between 1987 and 2010. The aim was to investigate whether there is a causal relationship between infections in the woman during pregnancy and autism or intellectual disability in the child. Infections were included if they were severe enough to requirespecialist care and they were identified using diagnostic codes from patient and birth records.

Similar to previous studies, the researchers could see that infections that required specialist care during pregnancy were linked to an increased risk of autism and intellectual disability in children.

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