When mom suffers from the flu during pregnancy, the illness may have long-term side effects for the infant no one imagined – bipolar disorder. According to research published in JAMA Psychiatry, children born to mothers who suffered from the flu during pregnancy were four times more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The study was completed with support from the National Institutes of Health. 

Pregnant women need to take precautions against contracting the flu, according to the study. Precautions, including taking the yearly flu shot, reduce the risk of fetal exposure to the flu virus and thus may reduce the risk of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and possibly other mental health conditions. Researchers admit that pregnant women are not being vaccinated against the flu often enough. Dr. Alan Brown from Columbia University claims, “In spite of public health recommendations, only a relatively small fraction of [pregnant] women get immunized. The weight of evidence now suggests that benefits of the vaccine likely outweigh any possible risk to the mother or newborn.”

Researchers used information collected by an HMO for the study. Ninety-two adults born between 1959 and 1966 in Northern California were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. About 720 adults (no bipolar diagnosis) were included in the study pool as controls. When researchers matched maternal health records with birth/infant health records, they noticed a correlation between maternal influenza diagnosis and bipolar disorder diagnosis. According to researchers infants born to mothers who contracted the flu during pregnancy were four times more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder later in life. Evidence also suggested flu in the latter trimesters (2nd and 3rd) was more likely to influence offspring mental health. There also appeared to be a connection between maternal flu and a specific, psychotic bipolar subtype with infants being six times more likely to contract the subtype bipolar disorder. 

This is not the first study suggesting a connection between the flu virus and mental health disorders in offspring. Schizophrenia and autism may also be associated with maternal illness, particularly flu and inflammation. 


Source: Raveen Parboosing, Yuanyuan Bao, Ling Shen, PhD; Catherine A. Schaefer, Alan S. Brown. Gestational Influenza and Bipolar Disorder in Adult Offspring. JAMA Psychiatry, 2013 DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.896.

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