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Bipolar disease risk four times higher with prenatal flu exposure

Could prevention of maternal flu reduce the risk of bipolar disease?

Louise Prime

Friday, 10 May 2013

Babies born to women who had influenza while pregnant are almost four times as likely as others to develop bipolar disorder later in life, research has shown. Authors of the study, published online this week in JAMA Psychiatry, suggest that preventing flu in pregnant women might reduce the risk of bipolar disorder.

The researchers examined the maternity records relating to a cohort of people born during the eight years 1959-66, looking for treatment of maternal influenza. They used linkages to other databases, as well as other sources, to find cases of bipolar disorder in this birth cohort. There were 92 cases of bipolar disorder confirmed among 214 study participants and 722 control participants matched for date of birth and sex.

Exposure to influenza at any point during pregnancy raised the risk of bipolar disorder in offspring by almost four times (odds ratio 3.82). Neither maternal age, race, educational level, gestational age at birth, nor maternal psychiatric disorders, confounded the findings.

The study’s authors pointed out that further research is needed to try to replicate their results, including serologic studies for maternal influenza antibody in archived specimens from this cohort. But they said: “The findings of this study suggest that gestational infection with the influenza virus confers a nearly four-fold increased risk of bipolar disorder in adult offspring. If confirmed by studies in other birth cohorts, these findings may have implications for prevention and identification of pathogenic mechanisms that lead to bipolar disorder.”

They concluded: “[Our] findings suggest that prevention of maternal influenza during pregnancy may reduce the risk of bipolar disorder.”

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