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Home » Cytomegalovirus infection is linked to higher risk of autism

Cytomegalovirus infection is linked to higher risk of autism


A new paper has been published that examined the possible links between congenital cytomegalovirus infections and a higher risk of autism spectrum disorder. Congenital cytomegalovirus is a relatively common disease, with over 50% of adults contracting it, so its potential link to autism is important.

As I have written before, autism is not linked to vaccines. Still, the etiology of autism spectrum disorder is complex, and it may include a large number of factors from genetics to infections like congenital cytomegalovirus. But to repeat myself, it is NOT vaccines.

Let’s examine cytomegalovirus and the paper linking the virus to autism.

girl in white long sleeve dress sitting on brown wooden chair cutting paper autism cytomegalovirus
Photo by Natalie Bond on Pexels.com

What is congenital cytomegalovirus?

Congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV) is a condition where an infant is infected with cytomegalovirus before birth. The infection is present at birth.

Most people with cytomegalovirus don’t get sick and don’t know that they’ve been infected. However, an infection with the virus can be serious in babies and people with weak immune systems.

If a woman gets cytomegalovirus when she is pregnant, she can pass it on to her baby. Congenital cytomegalovirus occurs when an infected mother passes the virus to the fetus through the placenta. The mother usually lacks symptoms, so she may not be aware that she has the virus.

Usually, babies do not exhibit any symptoms of the virus and rarely exhibit serious complications. However, some babies can develop lifelong disabilities. Symptoms of congenital cytomegalovirus include:

  • Inflammation of the retina
  • Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (newborn jaundice)
  • Large spleen and liver
  • Low birth weight
  • Mineral deposits in the brain
  • Rash at birth
  • Seizures
  • Small head size

As you can see, some of the symptoms of congenital are neurological, so it is scientifically plausible that congenital cytomegalovirus is linked to a neurological condition such as autism spectrum disorder.

As of this time, there is no vaccine for the disease although several vaccine candidates are in early development at a handful of pharmaceutical companies.

Cytomegalovirus and autism paper

In a paper published on 1 June 2024 in the respected journal Pediatrics, Megan H. Pesch, MD, MS, Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, University of Michigan, and colleagues developed a cohort study that included 2,989,659 children using 2014 to 2020 Medicaid claims data. The researchers used diagnosis codes to identify congenital cytomegalovirus (exposure), autism spectrum disorder (outcome), and covariates (including central nervous system (CNS) anomaly or injury diagnosis codes, including brain anomaly, microcephaly within 45 days of birth, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or chorioretinitis) among children enrolled from birth through ≥4 to <7 years.

Here are their key results:

  • The researchers found that 1044 children (3.5 per 10,000) had congenital cytomegalovirus and 74,872 (25.0 per 1000) children had autism spectrum disorder.
  • Of those children with congenital cytomegalovirus, 49% also had CNS anomaly or injury diagnosis codes. This is a very high rate and should be of concern that will spur further development of preventative vaccines.
  • However, the key finding was that children with cCMV were 2.5 times more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder.

The researchers concluded:

Children with (versus without) cCMV diagnoses in Medicaid claims data, most of whom likely had symptomatic cCMV, were more likely to have ASD diagnoses.

Summary

Scientists know that the etiology (probably etiologies) of autism is numerous and complex (and it does not include vaccines). Congenital cytomegalovirus is just one clue for scientists to review when explaining the causes of autism.

This study does not state that cCMV is the ONLY causal factor for autism, it is just one of probably many factors.

However, this study used a large patient population and provided clinically significant differences in autism risk between the cCMV and non-cCMV groups. Getting a vaccine for cytomegalovirus will be a key method in reducing this link.

Citations

Michael Simpson

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