Tampa experts on new study linking flu during pregnancy with autism

Findings reinforce flu shot for pregnant women

TAMPA - For years, doctors have been looking for links to understand why some children develop autism and others don't. There are many theories, but no concrete answers.

Now doctors are finding a mother's health may have something to do with her child developing autism.

According to results of a new study, mothers who reported they had the flu during pregnancy were at least twice as likely to have a child with autism as those who didn't report having the flu. 

"It was a huge study out of Denmark where they looked at 93,000 children," said Dr. James Orlowski.  He runs the pediatric unit at Florida Hospital Tampa, and says the results of the study make sense to him. "Any febrile illness, and the higher the fever the greater the risk, can affect the development of the very young brain in the fetus.  And that's what they found in the animal studies.

So what does he think we should take away from the study data? "If you're very concerned about it, it's a good reason, a legitimate reason, to get the flu vaccine."

I'm not sure I'd jump to getting the flu shot, but I would do everything I could to avoid getting sick, like wash your hands and avoid contact with kids or adults that have a cold," Dr. Orlowski said.

Dr. Nelson Mane has been treating kids with autism for years.  He says flu and high fevers during pregnancy may just be one more of many risk factors. "You don't want to add up those risk factors, older parents, obese mother, not taking foliate, if the child is jaundice, all of those factors that add up the more careful you have to be."

Both doctors think this study is too preliminary and more research is needed. Some autism advocates believe vaccines may be responsible for autism and worry the flu vaccine may have mercury in it.  Dr Orlowski says the flu vaccine is safe for women and baby because the vaccine given is a dead vaccine.

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