Boys born to mothers infected with SARS‐CoV‐2 during pregnancy may be more likely to receive a diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder by age 12 months, according to new research.
Andrea G. Edlow, MD, MSc, with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues examined data from 18,355 births between March 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021, at eight hospitals across two health systems in Massachusetts.
Of these births, 883 (4.8%) were to individuals who tested positive for SARS‐CoV‐2 during pregnancy. Among the children exposed to SARS‐CoV‐2 in the womb, 26 (3%) received a neurodevelopmental diagnosis, including disorders of motor function, speech and language, and psychological development, by age 1 year. In the group unexposed to the virus, 1.8% received such a diagnosis.
After adjusting for factors such as race, insurance, maternal age, and preterm birth, Dr. Edlow’s group found that a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk for neurodevelopmental diagnoses at 12 months among boys (adjusted odds ratio, 1.94; 95% confidence interval, 1.12-3.17; P = .01), but not among girls.
In a subset of children with data available at 18 months, the correlation among boys at that age was less pronounced and not statistically significant (aOR, 1.42; 95% CI, 0.92-2.11; P = .10).
The findings were published online in JAMA Network Open
Prior epidemiological research has suggested that maternal infection during pregnancy is associated with heightened risk for a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and schizophrenia, in offspring, the authors wrote.
“The neurodevelopmental risk associated with maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection was disproportionately high in male infants, consistent with the known increased vulnerability of males in the face of prenatal adverse exposures,” Dr. Edlow said in a news release about the findings.
Larger studies and longer follow‐up are needed to confirm and reliably estimate the risk, the researchers said.
“It is not clear that the changes we can detect at 12 and 18 months will be indicative of persistent risks for disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, or schizophrenia,” they write.
New data published online by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 11 communities in 2020, 1 in 36 (2.8%) 8-year-old children had been identified with autism spectrum disorder, an increase from 2.3% in 2018. The data also show that the early months of the pandemic may have disrupted autism detection efforts among 4-year-olds.
The investigators were supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Coauthors disclosed consulting for or receiving personal fees from biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.