Pregnant women infected with the genital herpes virus may face an
increased risk of having children who develop schizophrenia and other mental
disorders, research suggests.
Previous studies have suggested that infections in pregnant women,
including measles and the flu, may make their children more prone to
schizophrenia later in life. But those studies generally were based on
women’s recollections of whether they had had infections during pregnancy.
The new study — the first to identify a possible herpes-schizophrenia
link — is different because it involved adults with mental illness whose
mothers had given blood samples while pregnant. The researchers were able
to use the samples to identify which women had infections.
Evidence of herpes simplex virus type 2 infections was found in 10 of the
27 mothers, four time higher than the rate in the general population.
“Whether the herpes infection is a direct cause of just a factor is
still unknown,” said Robert Yolken of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, a
co-author of the study, which appears in the November issue of the Archives of
The herpes link is very preliminary, in part because the study involved
only 27 adults with schizophrenia or other psychotic illnesses, said Ezra
Susser, head of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public
Health and at New York State Psychiatric Institute.