November 27, 2007

How Flu During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Child Getting Schizophrenia

Several weeks ago we covered research which demonstrates that if a mother gets the flu during pregnancy it significantly increases the chances of the child later developing schizophrenia. Now a new story featured today in The Washington Post discusses this research in further detail.

The story begins by discussing what several past studies have found, that people born in winter and spring are at an increased risk for developing schizophrenia. As we've covered in the past, scientists believe that contracting infections in the first two trimesters of pregnancy (which is more likely to happen during certain seasons like fall, coinciding with winter and spring births) explain this risk. Specifically, scientists have studied contraction of the flu, and the way in which the body fights it off. They believe the way in which a pregnant women's body responds to the flu is connected to whether an increased risk of schizophrenia occurs for her unborn child:

...The newest studies suggest the culprit may not be infections such as the flu per se, but pregnant mothers' immune reactions to such infections. Current guidelines recommend that pregnant women get a flu shot -- and the point of the flu vaccine is to set off an immune reaction. If the risk for schizophrenia is increased as a result of maternal antibodies, might protecting mom and baby from the flu raise the risk the child could get schizophrenia years down the road?

The research into the links between maternal flu and schizophrenia is still considered preliminary, which makes any policy conclusions premature, but scientists studying the connection are starting to worry. National guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get flu shots.

In the article, researcher Paul Patterson, known for his work in the area of maternal infection and schizophrenia, states that despite current guidelines, he would not want his wife vaccinated against the flu. Instead, he explains that he would encourage pregnant women and their family members to wash their hands frequently and avoid infected people. Still, Patterson admits that abstaining from a flu shot puts the unborn child of a pregnant mother at an increased risk for developing not just schizophrenia (if the flu is contracted), but also other illnesses that are the consequences of the flu. Another researcher states that abstaining from a flu shot may be dangerous; because, although new research may have raised the question of whether a flu shot during pregnancy is an effective means of protecting against schizophrenia for the unborn child, we still don't know for sure that it's not. Thus, researchers recommend following current guidelines for vaccinations during pregnancy. Nevertheless, discussing such matters with your doctor before and during pregnancy is important.

Full Story: A Theory That Raises Questions (The Washington Post)

Additional Reading:
Maternal Flu - Causes of Schizophrenia
New Understanding of How Flu Virus Exposure During Pregnancy May Increase Risk of Schizophrenia in Child


Post a comment

Please enter this code to enable your comment -
Remember Me?
(you may use HTML tags for style)
* indicates required