A study of Danish children released Monday points to a slight increase in the chances that women who catch the flu while pregnant may have autistic children.
According to NBC News, the study, conducted by researchers from the University of Aarhus in Denmark and the Centers for Disease Control and published in the journal Pediatrics, found that 976 out of 96,000 children whose pregnancy was measured in Denmark between 1997 and 2003 -- about 1 percent -- were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum after their mothers reported suffering from the flu or a fever for a week or longer.
"We found almost a twofold increased risk of infantile autism in the child after self-reported infection with influenza virus during pregnancy," they said in their report.
Earlier this year, a Stanford University study said women who reported suffering fevers during their pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with autism, saying "inflammatory processes may be interfering with brain development at critical stages."
Authorities said about one in 88 children in the U.S. are born along the autism spectrum, which ranges from Asperger's syndrome to more severe developmental disorders, including one in 54 boys. Doctors in this country already encourage pregnant women to get flu shots, as they provide a boost to their immune systems. Many Danish women, by comparison, reportedly do not receive vaccinations against influenza.
While quick to point out that the vast majority of women who experienced similar symptoms did not have autistic children, a CDC official said it remains unclear how much of a factor the disease is when compared to taking antibiotics during pregnancy.
"Animal studies suggest that when the mother’s immune system is triggered during pregnancy, such as when she is fighting off an infection, that immune response might affect a child's developing brain." said Dr. Coleen Boyle, head of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]