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Study: Infections may raise risk of kids developing mental illness

Photo: diversitypreparedness.org

Childhood infections, even bronchitis, may increase the risk of developing mental health disorders like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder, according to new research.

The first study of its kind, researchers gathered data on hospitalizations and prescription medications for over 1 million children born in Denmark between 1995 and 2012. Researchers think that infections and inflammatory reactions can affect the developing brain, contributing to the process of developing mental disorders.

Kids who were hospitalized for an infection had an 84 percent higher chance of being diagnosed with metal health disorders, excluding depression and bipolar disorder. And they were 42 percent more likely to be prescribed medication to treat a mental illness.

About four percent were diagnosed with schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and personality disorders. And 5.2 percent of them were prescribed medications for mental disorders.

Infections that were deemed less serious and could be treated in an outpatient setting with an antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal or antiparasitic medications increased a child’s chance of getting a mental illness diagnosis by 40 percent and a 22 percent chance of being prescribed medication.

The risk for developing a mental disorder is also higher within the first three months following an infection, authors note.

When looking at the role genetics and home environment plays in a child’s chances of developing a mental illness following an infection – researchers found that hospitalization fell to 21 percent compared to the 84 percent above. And the risk of being prescribed medication fell to 17 percent.

This finding strengthens the link between infections and its correlation to mental illness, not just confining it solely to genetics and socioeconomic factors.

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