SEATTLE — A study led by University of Washington researchers found that children whose mothers were hospitalized with any kind of infection during pregnancy had a 79 percent higher risk for autism and a 24 percent higher risk of depression later in life, according to a press release.
The study also found children in this case had a higher risk of suicide later in life.
This was the first study where depression and suicide risk in adults have been linked to infection in pregnancy, according to UW Medicine obstetrician and gynecologist Kristina Adams Waldorf, who co-led the study.
Researchers looked at hospital records of nearly 1.8 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 2014, from birth to age 41.
The study found that increased risk for autism and depression was found even when the mothers were treated for infections "generally considered mild, such as those of the urinary tract."
As for two other disorders, researchers found no increased risk for psychosis and bipolar disorder for people whose mothers had been hospitalized for infection during pregnancy.
“These findings suggest that preventing any infection in mothers during pregnancy may be important for the long-term health of their children,” said lead author Benjamin al-Haddad in the release, who at the time of the study was a pediatric resident at the UW School of Medicine
Adams Waldorf stressed that all pregnant women should get the flu vaccine.
“I think we need to take a broader view of how infection and inflammation can harm the fetal brain, beyond the effects of direct infection of the brain,” Adams Waldorf said in the release. “In the meantime, we should aggressively act to prevent and treat infections during pregnancy when we can.”
Adams Waldorf said that women who do not get the flu vaccine while pregnant are "not only putting themselves at risk for serious and even fatal infections, but they may be putting their infants at risk for psychiatric disorders later in life."