DENVER (CBS4) – Doctors and researchers are still struggling to uncover what causes autism, but now there’s a possible new clue.

A new study out of Denmark suggests a pregnant woman being sick with something as minor as the flu could double her chances of having an autistic child, but doctors say it’s just one piece of a puzzle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 88 children in the United States has autism. The cause of the developmental disorder is still unclear, but the new research is considered noteworthy.

Yelba Castellon-Lopez gets regular check-ups before she gives birth to her first child. She knows it’s important to stay healthy for both herself and her unborn baby.

“I do everything that I can not to get sick. I wash my hands a lot, I use hand sanitizer, I got the flu shot,” Castellon-Lopez said.

Danish researchers looked at nearly 97,000 children. They found children had twice the risk of developing autism before age three if their mom got the flu. The risk was three-fold if the mother had a fever for more than a week while pregnant.

“Common sense would say it wouldn’t be good for the baby to be exposed to high temperatures or a virus that is in your blood stream,” Dr. Denise Sur with the UCLA Medical Center said.

Researchers caution the results are very preliminary.

“Their own conclusions from this study is that they need to do more study,” Sur said.

It might be one small piece of a 1,000-piece puzzle. Bridget Cessar with the Autism Society of Colorado doesn’t want parents to panic.

“What I would hate to see is for parents of a newly-diagnosed kiddo feeling like it’s their fault for not taking better care of themselves, because it’s not their fault,” Cessar said.

But pregnant women tend to worry.

“If I were to get sick it would be in the back of my mind,” Castellon-Lopez said.

The hope is the study is a stepping stone. Those trying to unlock the mystery of autism say there is much more research to be done.

Researchers did not find an increased risk for women who got sinus infections, urinary tract infections, or the common cold.


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