Short-term effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic on infant socioemotional and neurodevelopment

Giesbrecht, Gerald F | $403,304

Alberta The University of Calgary 2021 CIHR Operating Grant

Previous pandemics and seasonal influenza studies have shown that in utero exposure to maternal viral infection results in a 2-7-fold increase in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders in adulthood. More severe disease and early exposure in pregnancy are associated with worse outcomes. Most studies have assessed these outcomes only in adults. Little is known about the effects of respiratory viral infection during pregnancy on children’s neurodevelopment or socioemotional development. Pandemics increase psychosocial stress among pregnant individuals, which is also known to increase risk for neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. It is therefore imperative that studies track not only the developmental outcomes associated with viral infection during pregnancy, but also disambiguate the effects of viral infection from those of psychosocial stress. Here we build an ongoing pregnancy cohort study (n > 11,000) that enrolled individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy, assessed exposure to pandemic-related hardship/stressors (e.g., job loss, social isolation), and psychological distress (e.g., depression and anxiety symptoms) among pregnant individuals. We propose to follow-up with this cohort to measure neurodevelopmental and socioemotional development in infants at 1y of age. The findings of this study will inform prevention and intervention efforts aimed at mitigating the damaging developmental effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic on infant development.

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