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A new study in the journal Pediatrics has found that women who had the flu or prolonged fever during pregnancy were twice as likely to have an autistic child than those who did not.

The researchers involved in the study wrote: "We found almost a twofold increased risk of infantile autism in the child after self-reported infection with influenza virus during pregnancy," which suggests that the mother's immune response may affect a child's developing brain. However, women who reported other infections during pregnancy, such as a cold or UTI, were not any more likely to have a child with autism. Health officials said the finding reinforces their recommendations that pregnant women should get flu shots, which will protect the mother and baby for the first six months after birth.

Additionally, researchers found that women who had a fever lasting a week or longer—either caused by the flu or unrelated to the flu—were three times as likely to give birth to a child with autism, which supports findings from a recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

"It is important to bear in mind that when you look at the absolute numbers, we see that around 99 percent of women reporting to have had influenza or fever during pregnancy, do not have children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder)," researcher Dr. Hjí¶rdis í“sk Atladóttir of the University of Aarhus in Denmark told NBC. "We want to reassure women. In this study, most women who experienced flu or prolonged fever or who were taking antibiotics did not have children with an autism spectrum disorder," asserted Boyle.

Image: Sick pregnant woman via Shutterstock