Childhood Infections and Risk of Depressive Symptoms and Psychotic Experiences in Adolescence

Sarfaroj Khan 


November 18, 2020


  • Common early childhood infections, particularly a very high infection burden, are associated with depressive symptoms up to mid-adolescence and with psychotic experiences (PEs) subsequently in childhood, but not with these outcomes in early adulthood.

  • The associations of infection with depressive symptoms at age 13 and 14 years and with suspected/definite PEs at age 12 years were robust.

Why this matters

  • Future studies are warranted to replicate the observed associations between common childhood infections and mental health outcomes during adolescence and to examine whether childhood infections have an effect on depressive symptoms and PEs in adulthood.

Study design

  • This population-based study evaluated the associations of the number of infections in childhood from age 1.5 to 7.5 years with depressive symptom scores at age 10, 13, 14, 17, 18 and 19 years and with PEs at 12 and 18 years using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) birth cohort.

  • Additional analysis using infection burden (‘low’=0-4, ‘medium’=5-6, ‘high’=7-9 or ‘very high’=10-22 infections) as the exposure was performed.

  • Funding: None disclosed.

Key results

  • Number of childhood infections was associated with:

    • depressive symptoms at age 10 (adjusted beta=0.14; P≤.01), 13 (adjusted beta=0.22; P<.001), 14 (adjusted beta=0.21; P<.001) and 17 years (adjusted beta=0.17; P=.04); and

    • suspected/definite PEs at age 12 years (adjusted OR [aOR], 1.18; 95% CI, 1.09-1.27).

  • Compared with low infection burden, very high infection burden was associated with:

    • depressive symptoms at age 10 (adjusted beta=0.36; P=.01), 13 (adjusted beta=0.72; P<.001), 14 (adjusted beta=0.64; P<.01) and 17 years (adjusted beta=0.79; P=.02); and

    • suspected/definite PEs at age 12 years (aOR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.25-2.05).

  • Childhood infections were not associated with depressive symptoms or suspected/definite PEs at age 18 or 19 years.


  • Risk of erroneous recall.


Chaplin AB, Jones PB, Khandaker GM. Association between common early-childhood infection and subsequent depressive symptoms and psychotic experiences in adolescence: a population-based longitudinal birth cohort study. Psychol Med. 2020 Nov 13 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1017/S0033291720004080. PMID: 33183379 View abstract

This clinical summary originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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