March 6 (UPI) -- Pregnant women infected with sepsis, flu or pneumonia can significantly increase the chance of giving birth to a baby with autism.
Mothers infected during pregnancy had nearly an 80 percent elevated risk of having a child with autism and a 24 percent risk of having a child who grows up with depression, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.
"These findings suggest that preventing any infection in mothers during pregnancy may be important for the long-term health of their children," said Benjamin al-Haddad, a former researcher at the University of Washington and study lead author, in a news release.
Other infections that can make newborns more susceptible to depression or autism are meningitis, encephalitis, chorioamnionitis, pyelonephritis or a urinary tract infection.
"This could help explain how infection and inflammation during pregnancy increase the child's risk of autism, in which social interaction is affected, and the risk of emotional disorders, such as depression," said Kristina Adams Waldorf, a researcher at University of Washington and study author.
The researchers examined the records of almost 1.8 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 2014, from birth to age 41.
Adams explains that portions of the fetal brain are "exquisitely vulnerable" to harm from infection and inflammation, particularly the parts responsible for social and emotional function.
"These results emphasize the importance of avoiding infections during pregnancy, which may impart subtle fetal brain injuries contributing to the development of autism and depression," researchers wrote in the study.
The researchers of the current study say getting a flu shot is safe for the mother and child. Although, one study does report an association between a pregnant woman getting the shot and having a spontaneous abortion.
But Adams warns any mothers-to-be who don't get flu shots could be taking a chance with their children's neurological development.
"They are not only putting themselves at risk for serious and even fatal infections, but they may be putting their infants at risk for neuropsychiatric disorders later in life," Adams said.