Looking for a follow-up on the Perth flu stories, I found something else in the West Australian: Flu linked to schizophrenia.
Scientists have discovered why women who catch the flu during pregnancy can trigger schizophrenia in their unborn babies. The breakthrough, revealed at an international brain conference in Melbourne, brings US researchers closer to developing a therapy which could reverse the harmful effects of viruses on foetuses.
Women who get respiratory infections such as influenza in the second trimester of pregnancy are up to seven times more likely to have a child with schizophrenia. There also is an increased risk of autism.
Professor Paul Patterson, a neuroscientist from the California Institute of Technology, said this risk was much greater than any known genetic influence.
He believes the virus is able to trigger a mental “switch” which permanently alters and inflames the foetus’ brain, setting the child up for mental illness.
The research team gave pregnant mice the flu virus and watched the effect. “The offspring had strikingly abnormal behaviour consistent with things that have been seen in schizophrenia and autism, like disrupted social behaviour, fear of novel situations and increased anxiety,” Professor Patterson said.
Scans of the mice brains showed pathology which matched both conditions.
The researchers discovered that rather than the virus directly triggering the brain change, it was the mother’s immune response to the bug which caused the problem.
This is discouraging, but it also meshes with a 2006 study done on persons who were in utero when their mothers contracted Spanish flu in 1918-19. Pregnant women were at serious risk in that pandemic. Many of those who survived lost their babies. Those babies who did survive grew up to be unusually prone to illness and did poorly in education and work. Here's the link to a PDF of the study, Is the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Over?