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Study Sees Link Between Mom's Flu, Bipolar Risk for Children

But the risk is small and the connection hasn't been proven, researchers say
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- Women who come down with the flu during pregnancy may be at increased risk of having a child who develops bipolar disorder, a new study suggests.

The chance of a child eventually developing the mental health disorder was nearly four times higher when comparing mothers-to-be who had the flu to those who didn't, the researchers reported.

"We don't fully understand this," said study co-author Dr. Alan Brown. "The best guess is it's an inflammatory response. It could also be a result of fever," he noted.

"Mothers should stay away from people who have the flu," said Brown, a professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical epidemiology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

However, he added, regarding the new findings, "women should not be greatly concerned, because a fourfold increase is pretty high from an epidemiological standpoint, but still the vast majority of the offspring did not get bipolar disorder."

Brown explained that "the risk of bipolar disorder in the population is about 1 percent, so if it's increased fourfold that would make it a 4 percent risk." Moreover, the researchers only looked at one risk factor for bipolar disorder, not all risk factors, which could skew these results, he noted.

The report was published in the May 8 online edition of JAMA Psychiatry.

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out routine tasks. Bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

The condition often develops in the late teens or early adult years. Some people have their first symptoms during childhood, while others may develop symptoms as adults, the agency noted.

For the study, researchers at Columbia University and Kaiser Permanente identified cases of bipolar disorder by database linkages of a Northern California health plan and a county health care system, along with data from a mailed survey.

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