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Key Findings: Autism after Infection, Febrile Episodes, and Antibiotic Use during Pregnancy: an Exploratory Study

Boy lookking at his mom's pregnant bellyThe Pediatrics journal has published a new study: “Autism after Infection, Febrile Episodes, and Antibiotic Use during Pregnancy: an Exploratory Study.” You can read the article’s abstract here. See below for a summary of the findings from this article.

Main findings from this study

  • Children whose mothers reported common infections, such as respiratory infection (like the common cold or a sinus infection), urinary tract infection, or genital infections, during pregnancy were not at risk for autism spectrum disorders.
  • Children whose mothers reported flu, fever lasting more than a week, or antibiotic use during pregnancy were at greater risk for autism spectrum disorders; however, the total number of children with autism spectrum disorders was small.
  • This study was exploratory, and more research needs to be done to understand risk factors for autism spectrum disorders.

What can mothers do to stay healthy during pregnancy?

There are steps you can take to help have a healthier pregnancy, like washing your hands often to prevent infections, staying away from people who are sick as much as possible, and getting a flu shot. Talk with your doctor to learn more about how to be as healthy as possible during pregnancy.

Learn how to…

More about autism spectrum disorders and this study
  • What are autism spectrum disorders?
    Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
  • What is currently known on this subject?
    Animal studies have suggested that when a mother’s immune system is triggered during pregnancy, like when she is fighting off an infection, it may impact the child’s developing brain. The evidence is not clear about whether or not infections during pregnancy are related to the development of ASDs in children.
  • What does this study add?
    This is the largest study of children (about 96,000) that looked at how specific common infections, fever, and use of antibiotics reported by their mother during pregnancy might be related to risk for ASDs. Future research can build upon the findings of this study and other studies to understand more about what puts children at risk for having ASDs.
  • What were the results of this study?
    • Children whose mothers reported having the flu during pregnancy were 2 times more likely to have been diagnosed with autistic disorder, a subgroup of ASDs, when compared with children whose mothers did not report having the flu.
    • Children whose mothers reported having a fever lasting more than a week during the first 8 months of pregnancy were 3 times more likely to have been diagnosed with autistic disorder, a subgroup of ASDs, when compared with children whose mothers did not report having a fever lasting more than a week.
    • Children whose mothers reported using certain antibiotics during pregnancy also had a small increased risk for having been diagnosed with any ASD when compared with children whose mothers did not report using certain antibiotics.
    • We found no association between a child’s risk of being diagnosed with any ASD and common maternal infections like respiratory infection (like the common cold or a sinus infection), urinary tract infection, or genital infections during pregnancy.
    • Due to the many statistical tests that were done, the positive findings on flu, fever lasting more than a week, and use of antibiotics may be chance findings. In this study, most of the mothers who reported flu, fever lasting more than a week, or use of antibiotics during pregnancy did not have a child with an ASD. For example, the total percentage of women who reported having flu and had a child with autistic disorder was less than 1% of all mothers who reported having the flu.
  • What is CDC doing to understand more about autism spectrum disorders?
    • This study looked at a group of children born in Denmark. At CDC, we are conducting the largest study in the United States to help identify factors that put children at risk for ASDs, including different conditions in the mother during pregnancy like infection. To learn more about this study, called the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), please visit www.cdc.gov/seed.
    • In addition to conducting research, CDC is also committed to providing essential data on ASDs and to developing resources that help identify children with ASDs as early as possible. To learn more, please visit our website, www.cdc.gov/autism
More about pregnant women and flu
  • What does CDC already know about influenza in pregnant women?
    Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to severe illness from flu as well as hospitalizations and even death. Pregnant woman with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.
  • What does CDC currently recommend for pregnant women regarding influenza?
    Flu shots can protect pregnant women, their unborn babies, and even protect the baby after birth. CDC recommends that all pregnant women get a flu vaccine. CDC also recommends that pregnant women who get sick with influenza be treated with influenza antiviral drugs. To learn more about influenza and pregnancy, please visit www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/pregnant.htm
Reference for Key Findings Feature
  • Atladottir HO, Henriksen TB, Schendel DE, Parner ET. “Autism after Infection, Febrile Episodes, and Antibiotic Use during Pregnancy: an Exploratory Study.” Pediatrics 2012.

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