It’s International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, and staying healthy can have consequences far down the road.
Not that you needed it: here’s yet another reason to fear a respiratory infection this month.
The flu season is almost over and the vast majority of people who have had the bad luck of contracting the illness will get better within a week or so. If you’re pregnant though, research is showing that a bad infection may have a long term affect on your baby’s brain.
In a study done by researchers from the University of Zurich-Vetsuisse in Zurich, Switzerland, it was found that mothers who got sick with certain infections while pregnant had babies who showed alterations in their DNA. The type of alterations that occurred depended on the timing of the infection during pregnancy, with more severe changes being held in connection with infections that occurred in early pregnancy.
What kinds of changes showed up?
A specific type of epigenetic modification called DNA methylation raised its head. This has been isolated increasingly in connection with neurodevelopmental disorders, including such conditions as schizophrenia and autism.
Through studying infections in pregnant mice, experts found that epigenetic modifications didn’t surface equally in everyone, though.
In some offspring, problems didn’t arise until they reached adulthood. For example, some mice whose mother’s had suffered an infection in early pregnancy seemed fine as children, but went on to develop schizophrenia as an adult. (How you determine if a mouse suffers from schizophrenia, I don’t know, but apparently it’s possible).
And some mice didn’t experience any problems at all.
Researchers feel the difference depended on the activities and events in a patient’s life as they age.
For example, one patient may have altered DNA as a result of a mother’s infection in the womb, and then undergo a considerably stressful event as a young adult, which triggers brain problems. Another patient may have the same altered DNA, but not experience the stressful event. They may turn out just fine.
Besides scaring the pants off of women suffering from colds in early pregnancy, there is an everyday use for this discovery.
Experts are hoping that it can lead to earlier intervention and support for those who may need it.
With the right development, identifying children who have endured prenatal infections could open up avenues for preventive treatments in the future- which is always good news.
For more information on the issue, click here.
Photo credits: pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock.com