Updated: 10/24/2013 7:53 PM
Created: 10/24/2013 7:52 PM KSTP.com
By: Kenny King
(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, may have extra incentives for getting their flu shots.
According to several recent studies, influenza infections in pregnant women may create potentially life-changing risks for their unborn children, such as bipolar disorder and autism.
"In the pregnant women who got influenza the risk of autism was about 2 to 3 fold higher."
Dr. Greg Poland serves on the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices … and heads the Vaccine Research Group at Mayo Clinic.
His team has been studying the flu virus and its impact on the population for 25-years. He believes that rather than the flu vaccine itself preventing some occurrences of autism and mental illness, it's more likely that keeping mothers healthy during pregnancy lowers the risk to their offspring.
"In one study they looked at about 100,000 pregnant women and they looked at those women who developed influenza and fever and those women who didn't and then looked at their children, about 96,000 children."
Bonnie Sexton says she wanted her flu shot because she knew pregnant women are at higher risk of severe flu complications, even death. But, news of this extra benefit brings even more peace of mind.
"It's nice to know that you can help a little bit, that it isn't all in somebody else's hands, that there's something you can do to reduce the risk of autism."
Dr. Poland says women vaccinated for Rubella also lower their children's autism risk, although that vaccine has to becoming pregnant.
"I like to say it this way - you can think of flu vaccine and rubella vaccines as anti-autism vaccines."