The Strange Link Between Pandemics and Psychosis

The Strange Link Between Pandemics and Psychosis

Publication date: Mar 18, 2020

By 1919, the Spanish Flu pandemic had spread influenza to a third of the world’s population, or around 500 million people.

While today, we consider viral infections to be diseases of the body-they infect the lungs, give us fevers, stuffy noses, or a cough-throughout history there’s also been a strange link between influenza and psychotic disorders similar to schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder that can affect how people think.

More recently, this link re-emerged from the observation that babies born in the winter or early spring, when mothers may have been exposed to the flu, are more likely to develop schizophrenia as adults.

Some experts propose that influenza could interfere with fetal development through a mother’s immune system, or that influenza could bring on some kind of autoimmune disorder that interacts with the brain.

And, with a new viral infection sweeping the globe, one that’s not the flu but nonetheless shares some things in common with past pandemics, it’s especially relevant to lend a critical eye to how viruses and infections could influence our minds.

More than 200 papers have found that winter- and spring-month births are associated with greater risk for schizophrenia, raising the possibility that if mothers get the flu, it could somehow affect their children.

They found that children of women who had been exposed to the flu during the first half of pregnancy were three times more likely to have schizophrenia.

While not all the women who were exposed to the flu had children with schizophrenia-meaning it wasn’t a sure thing-they concluded that their data suggested up to 14 percent of schizophrenia cases would not have occurred if those mothers hadn’t been exposed to influenza during early to mid-pregnancy.

In Denmark, large studies have found that infections and autoimmune diseases throughout life are associated with the increased risk of many other mental disorders too.

A study from 2016 looked at every person born in Denmark from 1983 to 2002 and found that those with infections treated with anti-viral medications and those requiring hospitalizations were more likely to have schizophrenia and affective disorders.

There’s evidence that children who get a lot of infections when they’re young have increased rates of getting schizophrenia, and that postmortem brains of people with schizophrenia have abnormal immune cells.

Rhesus monkeys that were infected with the flu during pregnancy had babies with smaller brains and other abnormalities similar to those seen in schizophrenia, Spectrum reported.

(There is no evidence, though, of an association between the immune response brought on by the flu vaccine and schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. )

Pollak said it could be that these viral infections and immune responses don’t cause schizophrenia on their own, but contribute to an overall risk.

Concepts Keywords
Affective Disorders Brain chemicals
Antibodies Energy cant
Antiviral Extrapolate flu
Autoimmune Diseases Hallucinations mania depression
Autoimmune Disorder Experienced insomnia depression
Blood Sorts psychosis influenza
Brain Percent schizophrenia
California Treatment schizophrenia
China Uncommon flu
Columbia University Infection mental illness
Coronavirus Kind autoimmune disorder
Cross Schizophrenia subtypes schizophrenia
Denmark Hard didnt flu
Depression Story influenza
Disassociate Infections autoimmune diseases
Dread Psychoses influenza
Energy How viral infection
England High past infections
Epidemiologic Influenza schizophrenia
Epidemiologist Infections rubella
Epidemiology Antibodies inflammation
Fetal Adults schizophrenia
Fetus Severe mental disorder
Genetic H1N1 influenza
Genetics This disorder
Genome Pro inflammatory molecules
Globe SARS
H1N1 Patients connection flu
Hallucinations Symptoms flu
Hong Kong Historical influenza epidemics
Immortality Risk mental disorders
Immune Cells Example target inflammation
Immune Reaction Possibility mothers flu
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Infection Reminder mental illness
Inflammation Flu schizophrenia
Influenza Similar psychotic disorder
Influenza Pandemic Schizophrenia adults Infection
Insomnia Connection influenza
Johns Hopkins University Viral infections diseases
Karl Menninger Articles
London Infectious diseases
Lord Rosebery Health
Lungs RTT
Mania Global health
Mental Disorder Zoonoses
Mental Disorders Animal virology
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Prime Minister
Psychiatric Disorders
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Psychotic Disorders
Risk Factor
SARS Epidemic
Spanish Flu Pandemic
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Suicidal Thoughts
Viral Infection


Type Source Name
disease MESH schizophrenia
disease MESH viral infections
disease MESH psychiatric illnesses
drug DRUGBANK Nonoxynol-9
drug DRUGBANK Tropicamide
disease MESH hallucinations
disease MESH influenza
disease MESH Psychosis
disease MESH paranoia
disease MESH mania
disease MESH abnormalities
disease MESH psychological stress
disease MESH Infection
disease MESH inflammation
disease MESH risk factors
disease MESH development
pathway REACTOME Immune System
disease MESH insomnia
disease MESH depression
disease MESH men
disease MESH fetus
disease MESH autoimmune diseases
disease MESH affective disorders
disease MESH autoimmune encephalitis
disease MESH rubella

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