The H1N1 flu virus can damage the developing brains of unborn offspring, scientists have found.
They discovered that the virus changes the workings of genes that control fetal brain growth and development. Some of those genes have been implicated in mental disorders.
“Prenatal viral infection led to altered gene expression in the hippocampus, including autism and schizophrenia candidate genes,” said Hossein Fatemi, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota medical school, whose research paper details the results.
Fatemi’s research was carried out entirely on mice so the results need to be interpreted cautiously in terms of their implications for humans.
It was, however, prompted by other epidemiological evidence suggesting that children born to women who have suffered flu infections during pregnancy are at increased risk of schizophrenia and possibly autism too.
It reinforces existing advice that pregnant women should do all they can to avoid infection with the virus.
Trevor Robbins, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge said the new research simply reinforced existing advice. He said: “Pregnant women should do their best to avoid all infections, especially flu.
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