A new study suggests exposure to influenza while in the womb may put infants at risk of developing schizophrenia later on in life.
Researchers say prenatal exposure to the flu meaning the infant is exposed to the virus because the mother has contracted the disease leads to an increased risk of schizophrenia. Most of these studies have relied on the mother's memory of infection or tried to link the two conditions by looking at people who were born during major flu epidemics -- leaving room for error.
Researchers used stored blood from mothers who gave birth between 1959 and 1966 to test for the presence of influenza during the pregnancies. The study involved 64 people diagnosed with schizophrenia and 125 healthy people. Results of the study showed people whose mothers had antibodies to the flu virus in their blood during the first trimester of pregnancy were seven-times more likely to have schizophrenia than those whose mothers showed no sign of the virus at that stage of pregnancy.
However researchers call for more research not only to confirm these findings, but also to uncover the best way to prevent influenza exposure among women who may become pregnant and to determine whether it is the virus itself that increases the risk for schizophrenia or whether the antibodies the body makes against the virus are to blame.