print

Autism & the Flu Factor During Pregnancy: December 14, 2012

As the number of children diagnosed with autism rises, so do questions. If we had a better idea of what causes it, would we be able to curtail it? Jami Hallman is an autism screener at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“I think there’s a lot of factors that have played into it and we’re really not sure if there’s some environmental factor or something that has made us actually have more autism or if we’re just more aware of it,” says Jami Hallman, nurse practitioner with Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Now a Danish study, presented in the journal Pediatrics, makes a tentative link between autism and the flu. It found women who had the flu during pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with autism. Those who had a fever longer than a week were three times as likely to have an autistic child.

The research reinforces recommendations to get the flu shot.

“Current CDC recommendations are that everybody receive a flu shot, there certainly are people who are at higher risk of having problems from the flu.  Especially the geriatric and older patients, the very young patients and pregnant patients,” says Dr. Christina Cavanagh, family medicine practitioner with Lee Memorial Health System.

The flu vaccine is proven to be safe for expectant moms, who should take the shot and not the nasal spray.

“It does have some live virus in the vaccine, it has been inactivated so it cannot cause the flu but it is a little bit more likely to cause flu-like symptoms low grade fever, muscle aches, cough and congestion,” says Dr. Cavanagh.

The autism-flu factor is still a work in progress, but it fits a growing theory about a mother’s immune system impacting the unborn child’s brain. One thing is certain; the issue is going nowhere fast.

“I’d heard somebody quote a number recently that there was about 1,000 kids in the Lee County school system with autism, which is a lot of children,” says Hallman.