CNN and other outlets have run articles on a recently published paper linking high levels of antibody to herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2, the main cause of genital herpes) in pregnant women with an increased risk their baby will later be found to have autism. The authors of the paper believe the potential link isn’t that the virus interacts directly with the fetus, but could be due to an inflammatory response HSV2 causes in the mother that may ultimately interfere with the development of the baby’s nervous system.
The response to these findings has been mixed with several leading experts (including ASHA’s medical and scientific advisors) believing many unanswered questions remain and agreeing that much more research would be needed to validate these results.
“Women who have HSV2 and who are pregnant, or planning pregnancy, should not be alarmed by this study” says Anna Wald, MD, MPH of the University of Washington. “While we need to continue to investigate the reasons for autism, I am not convinced by this study that there is a link between antibody levels to HSV in mid-pregnancy and the risk of autism.”
Bottom line: most pregnant women with HSV2 have normal pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. Many HSV researchers and clinical experts aren’t overly concerned by these findings and don’t think women should be, either. As always, talk to your health care provider if you have questions. You can read more about herpes and pregnancy from the University of Washington Virology Research Clinic and also ASHA’s Herpes Resource Center.