Can coronavirus cause autism in my unborn baby? I’m pregnant and worried.

Mar 14, 20 Can coronavirus cause autism in my unborn baby? I’m pregnant and worried.

Can coronavirus cause autism? In, short… maybe? There is no direct causal relationship between anything and autism. There’s no exact gene. There’s no exact chemical. There’s no exact environmental cause of autism. Well, at least not one all the experts can agree on. Everything we know is inconclusive, so basically we’re not sure. This may fill you with any number of emotions from fear to relief, and that is not only normal it is to be expected. You are a mom or dad (attentive dads are pregnant along with us moms, don’t @ me) and you want to make sure your baby is healthy.

Can coronavirus cause autism?

Can coronavirus cause autism?

Is There a Virus that Causes Autism

Rather than asking if coronavirus cause autism in unborn babies, try posing the question as if there is a direct relationship between any virus and the presence of ASD, try to look at it from a different perspective. Try to look at it from the perspective of maternal health. Any virus may be a virus that causes autism. To gain better perspective, we have gathered some information from Psychology Today for the Seth’s Mom family

Like everyone else, I’m struggling to evaluate the potential impact of the corona virus outbreak. As I write, precautionary measures are being taken across the globe, with different approaches being adopted by different governments, reflecting the different perceptions of risk and of the extent of the pandemic. Scientific and medical advisors, doing their best to anticipate to where this pandemic will go, are advising governments, desperately hoping to make the right choices for their people.

One problem they all face is in assessing the risk to different groups within society.  The elderly are particularly vulnerable, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions.  The young seem to be less effected, a relief for many parents.  But what about the unborn?  What precautions should pregnant women by taking?

Guidance has emerged on both sides of the Atlantic for women in pregnancy[1].  The message is that there is no evidence that babies in the womb are at risk.  Indeed, evidence suggests that corona-type viruses don’t cross the placenta, and case studies have led the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to conclude that, ‘Expert opinion is that the fetus is unlikely to be exposed during pregnancy’. This is reassuring, and the expert advice is that women in pregnancy should adopt approximately the same measures to avoid exposure as the rest of the population, and take similar steps for self-isolation should they suspect that they have become infected.

Neuroscientists working on neurodevelopmental disorders, however, might spot that one issue has been overlooked. There is good evidence that severe exposure to viral infection during the first trimester is associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders[2].  Perhaps the clearest evidence relates to autism, where in one robust study, the risk of a child being subsequent diagnosed with autism increased almost three-fold following exposure to a severe viral infection during the first trimester[3]. To be clear, these were not simply mild cases of the sniffles: the infection had to be serious enough to warrant hospitalisation.  To be clear also: the risk to the child remained low.  The population incidence of autism is roughly 1%, so even if tripled, the overwhelming majority of pregnancies deliver neurotypical children.

But could the same be true for Covid19, if it doesn’t infect the fetus? Well actually it could because the fetus doesn’t need to be exposed to the virus directly.  Experimental evidence suggests that the problem isn’t the virus itself, rather it results from the mother’s response[4]. Infection causes the mother’s immune system to produce cytokines – signalling molecules the activate the body’s defences and contribute to the development of the fever. While the virus itself may not cross the placenta, the cytokines do, and they impact the development of the fetus. It is this cytokine storm that seems to raise the risk of developmental disorder in the baby.

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External Resources

Genetics Home Reference – NIH

Support program: Autism Sibling Support Initiative

Support program: Sibling Support Project

Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council

Maryland Early Intervention and Special Education Services

Administration for Community Living

Pathfinders for Autism

Disability Scoop

Maryland Preschool Special Education

Maryland Department of Education Division of Early Childhood

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