Women who are infected with genital herpes early in their pregnancy may face twice the risk of bearing a child with autism, a team of US and Norwegian researchers said Wednesday.

The report in mSphere, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology journal, is the first to show that a woman’s immune response could have a harmful effect on the developing fetus’s brain and influence the likelihood of autism.

“We believe the mother’s immune response to herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) could be disrupting fetal central nervous system development, raising risk for autism,” said lead author Milada Mahic, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

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