Newborn viruses could cause cerebral palsy

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Viral infection shortly before and after birth could be linked to cerebral palsy, new research suggests.

A study carried out at the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital in Australia found that exposure to certain viral infections during the perinatal period is associated with cerebral palsy.

Published online by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the research involved 443 children with cerebral palsy and 883 control babies, all born to white mothers between 1986 and 1999.

The medics claim that the findings "support the theory that infections during this period can trigger brain damage and the development of cerebral palsy".

Researchers took blood samples within a few days of birth to test for the presence of neurotropic viruses (a group of viruses, including herpes viruses, which can all cross the placenta and infect the foetus).

The case-control study indicated that exposure to viral infection was common in all newborn babies, especially in pre-term babies, indicating that infection before birth may also be linked to pre-term delivery.

The researchers concluded: "Herpes group B viruses were found more often in babies who were later diagnosed with cerebral palsy than in control babies. In fact, the risk of cerebral palsy was nearly doubled with exposure to herpes group B viruses."

The authors now plan further studies to investigate the possible causes of the link.

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