Dr. Hossein Fatemi has been testing the H1N1 virus and its impact on fetal development for over 10 years. His findings provide an important link between viral infections in pregnant women and profound mental disease in their offspring.
The H1N1 swine flu that has been making headlines is but one species in an infamous H1N1 lineage that has circulated among human populations since 1917 – and the H1N1 lineage is one branch of numerous flu virus species. While flu viruses present themselves through the physical respiratory symptoms we have long associated with them, it is now apparent that their impact is more dangerous and profound than we had understood prior.
I spoke with Dr. Hossein Fatemi, Professor of Psychiatry, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Fatemi has been studying the link between H1N1 specifically and autism and schizophrenia since 1998. His work has centered on mice, but the lessons learned certainly translate to human populations.
In the 1990s, there was evidence that pregnant mothers who had been infected by the flu had given birth to children with schizophrenia.
“We asked a simple question,” Dr. Fatemi said. “If we infect pregnant mice at various gestations with H1N1, does it cause abnormalities in the offspring’s brain development. The experiment looked at the impact of H1N1 infection on brain genes in the hippocampus and in the cerebellum.”
The findings were staggering and pointed to a direct connection between flu infection and the onset of autism, schizophrenia, and other gray and white matter afflictions.
“A large number of brain genes were affected significantly in both the hippocampus and cerebellum,” said Dr. Fatemi.
Autism has been on the rise – and this has been an unexplained phenomenon. A number of studies have looked at mercury levels in vaccination dosages, but Dr. Fatemi’s look at flu infection may offer a broader understanding of how psychological disorders may be emerging from viral sources.
“Some cases of autism may be a consequence of these natural infections,” Dr. Fatemi said.
Now that’s interesting. If this is the case, perhaps we can engineer specific flu viruses as genetic engineering tools 🙂 Just joking but it is an interesting point. What are viruses but information vectors.