Pregnancy And The Flu: A Link To Schizophrenia

Jun 09, 2009

When mothers become infected with influenza during their pregnancy, it may increase the risk for schizophrenia in their offspring. Influenza is a very common virus and so there has been substantial concern about this association. A new study in the June 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier suggests that the observed association depends upon a pre-existing vulnerability in the fetus.

Specifically, Dr. Lauren Ellman and colleagues determined that fetal exposure to influenza leads to cognitive problems at age 7 among children who later develop a psychotic disorder in adulthood, but fetal exposure to influenza does not lead to cognitive problems among children who do not later develop a psychotic disorder.  It is important to note that these results were dependent upon the type of influenza, with this association present only after fetal exposure to influenza B as opposed to influenza A.

This research was conducted as part of the Collaborative Perinatal Project, which followed pregnant women and their offspring in the 1950’s and 60’s, collecting blood throughout pregnancies for later analyses. A series of cognitive assessments were conducted with the children of study participants and then psychotic diagnoses were determined in adulthood.

The findings from this study suggest that a genetic and/or an additional environmental factor associated with psychosis likely is necessary for the fetal brain to be vulnerable to the effects of influenza, given that decreases in cognitive performance were only observed in influenza-exposed children who developed a psychotic disorder in adulthood.

“The good news is that most fetuses exposed to influenza virus while in the womb will not go on to develop schizophrenia.  The bad news is that the prior association between influenza infection and later development of psychotic disorders was supported,” comments John Krystal, M.D., the editor of Biological Psychiatry.

This finding has the potential to influence efforts to develop prevention, early intervention and treatment strategies, such as taking steps to maintain careful hygiene and, if clinically appropriate, administration of the influenza vaccination to reduce infection among women prior to .  Dr. Krystal notes, “It also raises an important unanswered question: How does influenza virus affect the vulnerable developing brain and how can we prevent or reverse the consequence of fetal influenza infection in vulnerable individuals before they develop schizophrenia?”  More research is needed to elicit answers to these vital issues.

Citation: “Cognitive Functioning Prior to the Onset of Psychosis: The Role of Fetal Exposure to Serologically Determined Infection” by Lauren M. Ellman, Robert H. Yolken, Stephen L. Buka, E. Fuller Torrey, Tyrone D. Cannon.

Explore further: Early exposure to antidepressants affects adult anxiety and serotonin transmission

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Entry screening won't stop SARS, flu

Sep 23, 2005

Screening air passengers as they arrive at British airports is unlikely to prevent importation of either SARS or influenza, researchers in London report.

Mutated flu virus resists medicine

Feb 03, 2008

The Switzerland-based World Heath Organization said a small percentage of the major influenza virus this season has developed resistance to Tamiflu treatment.

New host species for avian influenza identified

May 11, 2007

An eight-year surveillance study, which included more than 36,000 wild migratory birds tested for low pathogenic avian influenza, details new data on host species, prevalence, and temporal and geographical variation of avian ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Ashy
not rated yet Jun 09, 2009
If all women at this study was americans they certainly was depressed to have no "sacred shot" themselves or because of relatives. It's enough reason for increase rate of children with psychotic disorders.

Researches should make new study with different categories of women.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.