Autism Prevalence Following Prenatal Exposure to Hurricanes and Tropical Storms in Louisiana
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Hurricanes and tropical storms served as natural experiments for investigating whether autism is associated with exposure to stressful events during sensitive periods of gestation. Weather service data identified severe storms in Louisiana from 1980 to 1995 and parishes hit by storm centers during this period. Autism prevalences in different cohorts were calculated using anonymous data on birth dates and parishes of children diagnosed with autism in the state mental health system, together with corresponding census data on all live births in Louisiana. Prevalence increased in dose-response fashion with severity of prenatal storm exposure, especially for cohorts exposed near the middle or end of gestation (p < 0.001). Results complement other evidence that factors disrupting development during sensitive gestational periods may contribute to autism.
KeywordsAutism Autistic Disorder Pregnancy Prenatal stress Disasters Natural experiment
This study was supported in part by a grant from the Cure Autism Now Foundation. We thank Lisa M. Sullivan, Ph.D., Department of Biostatistics, Boston University School of Public Health, for advice on statistical analysis; the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospital’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, and the National Center for Health Statistics, for supplying anonymous data; and Andrea Surova for help in preparing the manuscript. Parts of this paper were presented at the International Meeting For Autism Research, Montreal, June 2006.
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