Herpes simplex virus type-2 (HSV-2) may play a role in the development of autism, a new study postulates. Herpes virus type 1 and type 2 infect over 1 billion people worldwide. Herpes simplex virus type 1 is known to cause outbreaks of sores around the mouth or lips. More commonly known as fever blisters or cold sores, once you have this virus it remains in your system for eternity. Herpes simplex virus type 2 is more commonly associated with sores in your genital area. Although the virus may remain dormant for many years, most infected with the virus develop sores around the genital area occasionally which signifies an active infection. HSV-2 infects more women than men and recent tallies suggest the virus is found in one out of every 5 women of child bearing age.
Researchers studying a large Norwegian population discovered that an active infection early in the pregnancy doubled the chance that a male fetus will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Using bloodwork that was available from the second trimester to the time of birth was tested for 5 microbes that are known to damage fetal development: Cytomegalovirus, Toxoplasma gondii, rubella, HSV-1, and HSV-2. Higher than average levels of antibodies of HSV-2 from blood drawn at the second trimester, indicating an active maternal infection in the weeks prior, were associated with a doubled risk that a male newborn would be diagnosed with ASV.
It is believed that antibodies and an inflammatory response cross the blood brain barrier to inflict injury. The research suggests a subgroup of women is genetically predisposed to develop immune responses to certain disease-causing organisms – like HSV2 – and that inflammatory molecules and antibodies generated by the mother’s vigorous immune response cross the placenta and damage the fetal brain.
Although an infection with HSV-2 is not directly implicated with autism, it is suggesting that having HSV-2 in early fetal development along with other environmental factors increase the possibility of ASV. ASV is so severely understood that precautionary measures are necessary. Fetal development models along with accurate testing of the newborn for ASV should be demanded from mothers who have shown active HSV-2 infections in the weeks leading up to birth.
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