A new study has found that avoiding maternal influenza during pregnancy may reduce the risk of the child suffering from bipolar disorder. The Child Health and Development study showed that the children of women who had the flu during pregnancy had a nearly four-fold increased risk of bipolar disorder developing in their adulthood. Previous studies had linked gestational influenza with schizophrenia in children.
Previous research had looked at the association of in-utero exposure to infection/viral illness and schizophrenia. The new study was the first to examine the association between the development of bipolar disorder and gestational influenza exposure.
There may be an increased correlation between maternal psychiatric illness and gestational influenza. Bipolar disorder risk factors normally were looked at as being genetic or family history.
The study involved almost every pregnant woman receiving obstetric care form the Northern California Region of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Plan. This allowed the study to have more detailed maternal influenza exposure data than in any previous study. It also allowed for more standardization of diagnostic and psychiatric measurements.
It was found that the offspring of women who had the flu at any time during their pregnancy were nearly four times as likely to have a bipolar disorder diagnosis in adulthood as did the offspring of women who had not suffered from the flu during pregnancy. The study also found that if the maternal influenza was suffered during second or third trimesters that the risk of bipolar disease slightly increased over the overall risk.
A particularly interesting finding was that gestational exposure to influenza led to a six-fold increase in the risk of a subtype of bipolar disorder with psychotic features. There was no effect on the risks due to maternal age, gestational age at birth, race, education level or maternal psychiatric disorders.
The study underscores how important the flu vaccination is and how lucky we are to live in a country that has access to the flu vaccination. The vaccination can prevent major illness, not only for the mother, but also for the baby.
It is important to remember that the study found associations between maternal influenza. It did not find that maternal influenza caused bipolar disease. There may be other factors involved that lead to bipolar disease that also lead to maternal influenza. It has been said that it would be a major health advancement if we could improve vaccination rates during pregnancy so as to lower the risk factors for bipolar disorder.
Authors of the study concluded that pregnant women should be advised to consider getting a flu shot and to avoid contact with people who have influenza symptoms. The study noted that a relatively small fraction of pregnant women get influenza vaccinations despite the public health recommendations.
Based on this and other studies, the weight of evidence indicates that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any risks to the mother and/or child.
Bipolar disorder causes severe shifts in mood and can be debilitating for the sufferer. These shifts in mood can lead to poor performance at school or work, damaged relationships, hospitalization and even suicide.
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