New Study Suggests Fevers During Pregnancy Heighten Autism Risk

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Autism continues to be a condition that the medical community struggles to understand. While there have been fallacious arguments made over things like vaccines causing it, we’re still not any closer to understanding why it occurs, or how to prevent it. But some doctors and researchers are continuing to study the patterns linking to the disorder in order to understand it better. More recently, a new study suggests that moms experiencing fevers during pregnancy may be at higher risk of delivering a baby with autism. The study finds that when the fever hits, how often you have fevers while pregnant, and how they are treated are also important factors.

The study was conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, but the information studied was based on a large sample of children born in Norway between 1999 and 2009. The sample included 96,000 kids, of which, 583 were on the spectrum. Researchers found that 16% of the mothers in that group (15,701 children) all reported at least one fever during their pregnancy.

“We had maternal reports of fever in 4-week intervals throughout the entire pregnancy and we were able to link these data to the autism data we had collected through various methods and also through a patient registry,” Dr. Mady Hornig told CBS News. Hornig is the director of translational research at Colubia’s Center for Infection and Immunity.

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting…

Having a fever in the first trimester wasn’t reported to have a significant impact. But those who reported a fever in the third trimester were found to have a 15% higher risk of autism. And those who had a fever in the second increased their risk by 40%. Moms at greatest risk, though, were the ones who experienced multiple fevers after the first trimester (or after 12 weeks). Their risk soared over 300%—and that is definitely worth exploring.

But wait, there’s more: Doctors tend to suggest that pregnant women use acetaminophen to treat fevers and pain during pregnancy, and to avoid ibuprofen altogether. But while acetaminophen wasn’t held as responsible for causing autism, those who used the drug had a chance of giving birth to a child on the spectrum. Meanwhile, there were zero instances of autism in the children of moms who opted to use ibuprofen. See? Told you it was interesting.

“We don’t want to be alarmist, but certainly we want to know the best way to manage fever should it occur,” Hornig said.

I couldn’t agree more. It seems the next step in research will be to figure out how to prevent these fevers (and infections causing said fevers) in the first place. Maybe then we’ll finally start to get some answers.

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