Running a fever during pregnancy is associated with a risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delays in the offspring, a new study reports.
Previous research has suggested a connection between autism and various infections during pregnancy, including measles, mumps, rubella and influenza.
In the new analysis, researchers studied 701 children with autism spectrum disorders or developmental delays and 421 normal controls. After adjusting for age and other health and socioeconomic variables, they found that women who reported having had a fever during pregnancy were more than twice as likely as those who did not to have a child with a developmental disorder.
The study itself is behind a paywall, and it’s too cumbersome to look it up through my hospital accounts right now. Thus, I can’t really comment with authority on its quality. But that doesn’t stop me from having several thoughts.
First, even though this study is part of what appears to be an emerging picture about infections during pregnancy and autism risk, it’s still only one study. It’s best that nobody panic just yet.
Second, would anyone like to lay odds about how the anti-vaccine movement will react to news that vaccine-preventable illness contracted during pregnancy might increase risk of autism? Any guesses about the response to information that suggests vaccines might thus help prevent autism? My bet? Crickets chirping.
The truth is that we still really don’t know what causes autism. The most exhaustively investigated possible link is with vaccines, and I don’t think I have anything further to say about that right now. As with most disorders whose causes are described as “multifactorial” (translation: “we’re not sure”), I imagine it will probably be years before we have any solid evidence for the true source(s) of autism, if ever.
In the meantime, if you’re pregnant and get a fever, take some Tylenol. (It seems to mitigate the risk.) And don’t panic. Everything will probably be all right. It almost always is.