Infection and Fever in Pregnancy and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Findings from the Study to Explore Early Development

Lisa A. Croen, Yinge Qian, Paul Ashwood, Ousseny Zerbo, Diana Schendel, Jennifer Pinto-Martin, M. Daniele Fallin, Susan Levy, Laura A. Schieve, Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, Katherine R. Sabourin, Jennifer L. Ames

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Maternal infection and fever during pregnancy have been implicated in the etiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, studies have not been able to separate the effects of fever itself from the impact of a specific infectious organism on the developing brain. We utilized data from the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), a case–control study among 2- to 5-year-old children born between 2003 and 2006 in the United States, to explore a possible association between maternal infection and fever during pregnancy and risk of ASD and other developmental disorders (DDs). Three groups of children were included: children with ASD (N = 606) and children with DDs (N = 856), ascertained from clinical and educational sources, and children from the general population (N = 796), randomly sampled from state birth records. Information about infection and fever during pregnancy was obtained from a telephone interview with the mother shortly after study enrollment and maternal prenatal and labor/delivery medical records. ASD and DD status was determined by an in-person standardized developmental assessment of the child at 3–5 years of age. After adjustment for covariates, maternal infection anytime during pregnancy was not associated with ASD or DDs. However, second trimester infection accompanied by fever elevated risk for ASD approximately twofold (aOR = 2.19, 95% confidence interval 1.14–4.23). These findings of an association between maternal infection with fever in the second trimester and increased risk of ASD in the offspring suggest that the inflammatory response to the infectious agent may be etiologically relevant. Autism Res 2019, 12: 1551–1561.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1551-1561
Number of pages11
JournalAutism Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • autism
  • developmental disorder
  • immune function
  • infection
  • neurodevelopment
  • prenatal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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