Mom’s Fevers Linked to Child’s Autism

Autism rates were higher when mothers had an untreated fever during pregnancy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Risk of autism may be increased by untreated fevers during pregnancy.  A recent study found that mothers who had a fever during pregnancy had increased risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The higher risk was not present for mothers who took medication to control the fever. More research is needed to understand the link between mother’s fever and ASD.

"Talk to your OB before taking any medications"

Researchers at the University of California – Davis led by Ousseny Zerbo, PhD, talked to the mothers of 538 children with ASD, 163 with other developmental delays and 421 typically developing children.

Telephone interviews determined if the mother had the flu during pregnancy and if she had any illness with a fever during pregnancy. They also asked if the mother had taken medication to reduce any fever.

Zerbo and colleagues found that mothers who had a fever were two times more likely to have a child diagnosed with ASD. Mothers who had a fever were also two and half times more likely to have a child diagnosed with other developmental delays.

However, women who did not have a fever and women who took a medication to reduce a fever showed similar rates of ASD in their children.  In other words, when the fever was treated, the risk of ASD was not increased.

The authors conclude that an untreated fever during pregnancy may increase the risk of ASD and other developmental delays. 

They also noted that this finding contradicts other research showing a risk of taking fever-reducing medications, like ibuprofen, during pregnancy. 

More research is needed to weigh the risks and benefits of taking medications while pregnant.

Zerbo’s study was limited in that it relied on self-report of flu, fever and medications taken during pregnancy. Memory for past events can be incomplete, and the researchers were not able to investigate the causes of this link.

This study was published in May in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 31, 2012
Last Updated:
August 22, 2012