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Genital Herpes in Mom Linked to Schizophrenia in Baby

WebMD Health News

Nov. 13, 2001 -- In the first large-scale study of its kind, researchers from several U.S. centers have found an as-yet-unexplained connection between herpes simplex 2 -- the virus that causes genital herpes -- and schizophrenia. Babies born to women infected with the virus, commonly called HSV-2, appear to have a greater risk of developing the brain condition that causes an impaired perception of reality.

The team examined records and blood samples from more than 3,000 women who gave birth in Providence, R.I., between 1959 and 1966, and their offspring. From the review, the researchers found that 27 of the otherwise-healthy babies eventually developed schizophrenia or a related psychotic condition. On closer inspection, they found that many of these babies were born to mothers who had genital herpes.

The researchers report that there were no other significant differences between the mothers of babies who did and didn't develop schizophrenia that might explain the link. The groups of women were about the same age and had comparable education levels, smoking and dietary habits, and prenatal care. They gave birth at about the same time or season and had similar rates of physical or mental illness themselves, as well as infection with other sexually transmitted diseases. So the link could not be explained by health or lifestyle, leaving herpes infection as the sole differentiating factor.

"This evidence shows some association of maternal herpes simplex 2 virus with schizophrenia later in life. Whether the herpes infection is a direct cause or just a factor is still unknown," says researcher Robert Yolken, MD, a neurovirologist at Johns Hopkins University's Children's Center, in a news release.

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