Infections during pregnancy may cause autism, study finds
A new study suggests that women infected with genital herpes during pregnancy are at a higher risk for having a child with autism.
Women who had active infections early in pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder as women who did not, according to the researchers.
“We believe the mother’s immune response to HSV-2 (herpes simplex type 2) could be disrupting fetal central nervous system development, raising risk for autism,” Milada Mahic, a researcher at Columbia University who led the research team, told NBC News.
Researchers believe the woman’s immune response to the infection (the inflammation) may be causing the damage – not the virus itself.
The study tested women for immune responses to four viruses known to cause birth defects, including rubella, herpes simplex type 1 (cold sores) and herpes simplex type 2 (genital herpes).
Women with high levels of antibodies to genital herpes midway through their pregnancies were twice as likely to have a baby with autism. None of the other viruses seems to affect autism risk, according to the researchers.