According to a new paper made public earlier this week, women who come in contact with genital herpes before giving birth are twice as likely to bring into the world a baby with Autism Spectrum Disorder compared to healthy mothers.
Pregnancy and Disease
The research published on Wednesday, February 22nd, revealed that pregnant women who were infected with the herpes simplex 2 virus, the pathogen liable for most cases of genital herpes infections, were more predisposed to conceive babies with autism, a condition which identifies with repetitive interest and behaviors, as well as difficulty in social interaction.
According to health experts, autism spectrum disorder can be observed in 2-year-olds and 4-year-olds, respectively, although studies conducted on animals suggested the neurodevelopmental issues may start during the first stages of brain development. One in vice American women is infected with HSV-2, scientists say. Furthermore, the carrier host is stuck for the remainder of its life with the virus which lies dormant oftentimes in cells. Down the road, the body strengthens its immune response to the virus, causing the flare-ups to become less frequent.
Genital Herpes Virus and Its Effect on Human Fetuses
As opposed to other viruses, such as rubella or Zika, which infect the developing brain of the fetus and subsequently cause brain damage, Columbia University’s Ian Lipkin says that the inflammation caused by the HSV-2, or the mother’s immune response, actually causes the damage. Lipkin believes it is the cytokines, inflammatory chemicals, that bypass the placenta and infect the fetus’ brain cells.
Another researcher, also from the Columbia University, Milada Mahic, shares Lipkin’s views and said it is possible the mother’s immune response to the virus disrupts the unborn child’s central nervous system development and ultimately raises risk for autism spectrum disorder.
The researchers looked at 464 healthy mothers who gave birth to healthy babies and 442 subjects who gave birth to babies with autism spectrum disorder. Upon testing the mother’s immune response to four viruses, responsible for various birth defects, such as rubella, HSV-2, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex 1, it was concluded that mothers with high levels of antibodies to HSV-2 were twice as likely to have a baby with autism. At the same time, the other viruses were not associated with a high risk for autism.
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