Psychology Wiki

A link between maternal herpes and a doubling of the risk of autism has been hypothesized in recent years, as well as pre-2000 medical reports, largely ignored by the mainstream media, of an extremely rare, postencephalitic transient autism-like disease associated with herpes simplex infections at any age of life, that go back as far as the 1970's.

No to be mistaken with Childhood disintegrative disorder, which is the same symptomatology but not reversible and is only prevalent in children older than 3. This "herpes-induced autism" encephalopathy is somehow always reversible on its own and merely temporary. Age may be a factor on the symptomatology and prognosis of the illness. It can affect children, adolescents and adults.

Pediatric phenotype: 

  • Severe agitation, anxiety and hyperactivity

  • Loss of social, adaptive and communicative skills

  • Social withdrawal

  • Obsessive fixations

  • Disinhibtion, oral hyperexploration, eloping and intrusiveness

  • Decreased attentiveness

  • Inability to recognize and respond to language, gestures, emotions and people

  • Agressive, explosive and self-injurious behaviors

  • Perseverative, intrusive, bizarre and self-stimulatory stereotypies

  • Passivity, apathy and lethargy

  • Apathy

  • Echolalia

  • Fecal smearing

Adult phenotype: 

  • Loss of the ability to recognize emotional significance in objects and persons

  • Absence of sustained, purposeful activity

  • Inability to adopt in social relationships


Sudden rapid regression, with a state of profound illness lasting several months with rapidly changing symptoms, and then followed by a complete recovery.

The core symptom is a severe autistic regression; with some or all of the symptoms.

The prodromal phase may induce unusual worries, inappropriate emotions, stupor, turbulent behavior, vomiting and lethargy in pediatric cases.


Severe global dysregulation of the temporal lobes and insula (bilateral or left side, but predominantly left) and lower parietal regions caused by an autoimmune encephalopathy associated with the herpes simplex virus.


1. Acquired Reversible Autistic Syndrome in Acute Encephalopathic Illness in Children, DeLong et al. (1980)

2. Alasbimnjournal article (1999)

3. Mahic et al., "Maternal Immunoreactivity to Herpes Simplex Virus 2 and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Male Offspring" (2017)