Cerebral Palsy Linked to Viral Infection at Birth

Exposure to herpes group B viruses almost doubles risk

FRIDAY, Jan. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Prenatal exposure to neurotropic viruses like herpes, which can cross the placenta and infect the fetus, may trigger brain damage and cerebral palsy in infants, according to a study published in the Jan. 7 issue of the British Medical Journal. Newborns with herpes group B viral nucleic acids had a higher risk of cerebral palsy in the study.

Catherine S. Gibson, of the University of Adelaide in Australia, and colleagues in the South Australian Cerebral Palsy Research Group studied 443 cerebral palsy patients and 883 controls who had been born to white mothers between 1986 and 1999. The researchers tested stored neonatal blood spots for the presence of viral nucleic acids from herpes group A viruses, including herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and human herpes virus 8. In herpes group B, they tested for varicella zoster virus and the human herpes viruses 6 and 7.

Overall, 39.8% of the control group had viral nucleic acids and the prevalence was highest in patients who had been born preterm. In those who tested positive for herpes group B viral nucleic acids, the odds ratio for developing cerebral palsy was 1.68.

"The risk of cerebral palsy is nearly doubled with exposure to herpes group B viruses but may require other factors, such as genetic susceptibility to infection and inherited thrombophilia or involvement of other clinical events... for brain damage and subsequent cerebral palsy to occur," the authors conclude.

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