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Study: Flu During Pregnancy Increases Baby's Risk of Bipolar Disorder

Tara Sgroi

New research shows that if a woman develops the flu at any time during her pregnancy, her child has an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder later in life. According to the results of the study, there is nearly a four-fold increase in the risk of bipolar disorder after fetal exposure to maternal influenza.

This surprising data suggests that viruses may be the cause of certain psychiatric disorders. Lead study author Alan Brown has also worked on previous research that points to the risk of schizophrenia increasing when a baby is exposed to the flu virus in the womb.

The authors did note that women who had influenza during pregnancy were also significantly more likely to have a history of a psychiatric disorder. But after adjusting for this variable, the association between the mother’s gestational influenza and the child’s increased risk for bipolar disorder remained constant.

Plus: 30+ Smart Ways To Outsmart The Flu

Still, the study does not recommend getting a flu shot during pregnancy. Researches believe that the influenza vaccine activates an immune response that leads to altered brain development of the fetus. This is worrisome news in the wake of the worst flu season in memory.

The flu virus is typically transferred from one’s hands to the nose or mouth. To keep the flu away, we recommend these germ-fighting tips:

  1. Scrub away germs: wash hands for two rounds of "Happy Birthday", but also make sure the hands good and sudsy, too; friction is what scrubs away the germs.
  2. Use hand sanitizer when a sink's not around, but read the label carefully: An effective hand sanitizer needs to have at least 60 percent alcohol to kill bugs, says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., an associate professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University.
  3. Spot-clean germ hotspots "It's not dirt that you are looking for, it's germs," says Tierno. "Paying attention to the high-traffic areas where germs linger, like countertops, phones, and doorknobs, is more important." This also includes wiping down the cart handle at the grocery store, using your own pen when signing receipts or checks while shopping, and bringing toys if you take your kids to the doctor – an office full of sick kids have already touched the ones there.
  4. Wipes are super convenient, but they can also transfer bacteria from one surface to another. Use each wipe on only one surface, and then toss it.

For more tips on flu prevention, see our cold and flu guide.

Did you have the flu while you were pregnant? Leave a comment and let us know.