Each winter, people across the Northern Hemisphere prepare for the beginning of flu season. Fever, cough, fatigue and muscle aches make this respiratory illness one that many fear, and unfortunately, this year the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that this year may be one for the record books.
In 2013, the National Institutes of Health headed a study that explored the relationship between pregnant mothers’ exposure to the flu virus and the baby’s development of bipolar disorder later in adulthood. In the past, studies have also connected prenatal exposure to the flu with schizophrenia. The study reported a nearly fourfold increased risk when having the flu during any trimester but an even higher risk during the second and third trimester. It showed 8.7 percent of mothers of the adults with bipolar disorder had the flu at some point during pregnancy, while 2.6 percent of the mothers of adults without the disorder reported exposure to the virus.
Researchers are not quite sure why this link exists, but many theorize it is due to low amounts of glycoprotein, reelin, secreted by the brain after exposure to influenza.
Avoiding the flu is important for women and men of all ages, but particularly for women who are pregnant during flu season. Be sure to take basic precautions such as washing your hands, avoiding contact with sick people and getting a flu shot to protect your self. If you are sick, make sure to avoid spreading the virus to those who are more vulnerable. Although there are many factors that play a role in developing mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, safeguarding our physical health this winter is one of the most important steps we can take toward creating optimal mental wellness.