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New study links fever during pregnancy to autism

A fever during pregnancy might increase the risk of autism in a child by up to 34 percent.

A study conducted by the Center for Infection and Immunity,CII, followed close to 96,000 children born between 1999 and 2009. The study found that if a mother had a fever at any point in the pregnancy then the risk of autism increased by 34 percent, and if the fevers happened during the second trimester the percentage increased to 40 percent.

“Our results suggest a role for gestational maternal infection and innate immune responses to infection in the onset of at least some cases of autism spectrum disorder,” says first author Mady Hornig, associate professor of Epidemiology and director of Transnational Research at CII.

During the course of the study, researchers attempted to see whether taking anti-fever medication, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, would reduce the risk. Researchers could not conclude whether either medication had a significant effect on the children.

“Future work should focus on identifying and preventing prenatal infections and inflammatory responses that may contribute to autism spectrum disorder,” says senior author W. Ian Lipkin, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of CII.