Some studies have suggested that maternal immune activation during pregnancy can cause deficiencies in fetal neurodevelopment. Generally, infectious disease is the most common path to maternal immune activation during pregnancy.
This begs the question: Does the occurrence of common infections, febrile episodes, and the use of antibiotics by a mother during pregnancy increase the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and infantile autism?
It has already been suggested that maternal immune activation during pregnancy is associated with cardinal behaviors of autism in the offspring. Epidemiological studies have shown mixed, even conflicting results concerning this association, prompting researchers to investigate the association between specific common infections, febrile episodes, and the use of antibiotics during pregnancy and the risk for autism based on self-reporting data.
The study, published in Pediatrics, used a population-based cohort consisting of 96,736 children between 8- and 14-years of age born between 1997 and 2003 in Denmark. Information on infection, febrile episodes, and the use of antibiotics was self-reported through telephone interviews both during pregnancy and early postpartum. Autism diagnoses were retrieved from the Danish Psychiatric Central register, with 976 children (1 percent) from the study diagnosed thus.
Overall, the authors found little evidence linking mild common infectious diseases or febrile episodes during pregnancy to ASD/infantile autism. However, the data suggested that maternal influenza may be associated with a greater risk of developing infantile autism. Additionally, the use of various antibiotics during pregnancy are potential risk factors for ASD/infantile autism.
In conclusion, the authors of the study say that their results don’t suggest that mild infections, febrile episodes, or the use of antibiotics during pregnancy are strong risk factors for ASD/infantile autism. They write:
“Due to multiple testing, the few statistically signiﬁcant ﬁndings were possible chance ﬁndings. We experienced several methodologic limitations, and the results of this study thus cannot solely negate a possible association. We emphasize the need for further research on this important topic.”