Research finds connection between autism, pregnant women with flu

Doctors are scrambling to deliver the best advice to expecting moms after the latest news about the flu and autism.

New research seems to show a connection, but how much of one?

Danish researchers analyzed data collected from 97,000 mothers. They found children whose mothers had the flu or ran a fever lasting more than a week during pregnancy had an increased risk of developing autism.

But pediatrician Dr. Christine Halaburka says the new research does not offer a specific cause of the developmental disability.

"Influenza has been around for centuries and that in of itself can't explain the increase in autism we've seen here in the U.S.," she said.

The study showed pregnant women with a prolonged fever had twice the risk of having a child with autism.

But at the Pacific Autism Center for Education, Executive Director Kurt Ohlfs cautions the rate was still two in every 100 children - a relatively small rate of autism.

"I do have a concern this may alarm pregnant women who do get sick during pregnancy," he said.

Scientists believe the new research is an important piece of a very large puzzle looking at whether outside factors such as fever caused by inflammation may play a role in causing autism.

But at the very least, it highlights what pregnant women can do to protect their babies.

"The take home message is very clear. Get a flu shot and it will lower a pregnant woman's chances of getting influenza when pregnant," Dr. Halaburka said.

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