By Amir Khan
Pregnant women who get the flu shot may be protecting against more than just the aches and pains that come with the viral infection, according to research published yesterday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. They could also be lowering the risk of bipolar disorder in their offspring.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City compared 214 people who had been born to women who had flu while pregnant with 722 healthy controls, all born in the early 1960s. They found that those whose moms had flu during pregnancy were four times more likely to develop bipolar than the healthy controls - but their risk, while higher, was still very small.
Pregnant mothers should not be worried about their babies developing bipolar disorder just because they were infected with the flu, said Michael Silverman, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
“The four-fold increase seems to be a big deal, especially when you see that bipolar disorder only affects 1 percent of the population, but women should not be concerned,” Dr. Silverman said. There’s nothing new here, and nothing a mother should pay attention to.”
Researchers also did not take into consideration other potential causes of bipolar disorder, such as genetic factors, he added.
And the findings don’t show that the flu causes bipolar disorder, he said, but only an association that may do nothing but scare pregnant women.
“Women are going to be worried that if they get the flu, their child is going to be damaged,” he said. “But the risk is very small. It’s really nothing.”
A simple flu shot will help ward off the flu, which in turn may help reduce risk of bipolar disease offspring, Silverman said. The flu shot will not harm the fetus, so for women who are already pregnant it’s never too late to get vaccinated.
“If this study tells us anything,” he said, “it's that women should get vaccinated for the flu, especially if they are pregnant.”
"Bipolar Disorder Risk for Babies Born to Moms Who Had Flu" originally appeared on Everyday Health.