Autism is the topic of intense study because there is no known cause. Researchers are looking for possible causes before, during and after pregnancy. A recent study may have unlocked a small piece of the puzzle. When a pregnant woman suffers a fever, the risk of developmental delay and autism increases two-fold, but taking medication to reduce or control fever reversed the negative impact. This means there could be a connection between autism and body temperature. The study was publishedin the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The findings are part of the CHARGE study being completed at UC Davis. CHARGE stands for Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment study. The sole purpose of the study is to find an environmental or genetic cause for autism. The fever connection is important because the cause of the fever did not matter in terms of outcome. Fever is the body’s natural response to inflammation. Inflammation can be associated with obesity, injury, and infection.

This means the scope of the findings is wider than just the connection between fever, autism and developmental delay. Looking at the results with a wider vision a connection can be made between autism and obesity and chronic inflammatory conditions – both of which can cause increased body temperature or fever.

CHARGE studies children between the ages of two and five years. Some children have autism, some children have developmental delay and other children have neither (control). The total population of the study is just more than 1,000. According to information collected as part of the study, fever increased the risk of developmental delay and autism two-fold. Taking medication to fight fever eliminated the increased risk.

According to researchers, pregnant women should take over the counter medications to reduce fever and seek attention from their obstetrician if the fever does not resolve in a timely manner.

Source: Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Ousseny Zerbo, Robin Hansen, Sally Orzonoff, Cheryl Walker, Ana-Maria Iosif. CHARGE and UC Davis. June 11, 2012.