A new study by scientists at Columbia University confirmed a link between pre-natal influenza infection and schizophrenia:
One percent of the world’s population suffers from its symptoms of hallucinations, psychosis and impaired cognitive ability. The disease destroys relationships and renders many of its sufferers unable to hold down a job. What could cause such frightening damage to the brain? According to a growing body of research, the culprit is surprising: the flu.
If you are skeptical, you are not alone. Being condemned to a lifetime of harsh antipsychotic drugs seems a far cry from a runny nose and fever. And yet studies have repeatedly linked schizophrenia to prenatal infections with influenza virus and other microbes, showing that the children of mothers who suffer these infections during pregnancy are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life. In 2006 scientists at Columbia University asserted that up to one fifth of all schizophrenia cases are caused by prenatal infections.
Doctors have known for many years that microbes such as syphilis and Streptococcus can, if left untreated, lead to serious psychiatric problems. Now a growing number of scientists are proposing that microbes are to blame for several mental illnesses once thought to have neurological or psychological defects at their roots. The strongest evidence pertains to schizophrenia, but autism, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder have also been linked to bacterial, viral or parasitic infections in utero, in childhood or in maturity. Some of these infections can directly affect the brain, whereas others might trigger immune reactions that interfere with brain development or perhaps even attack our own brain cells in an autoimmune mistake.