Association between common early-childhood infection and subsequent depressive symptoms and psychotic experiences in adolescence: a population-based longitudinal birth cohort study

Anna B Chaplin*, Peter B Jones, Golam M Khandaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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BACKGROUND: Childhood infections are associated with adult psychosis and depression, but studies of psychotic experiences (PEs) and depressive symptoms in childhood, adolescence, and early-adulthood are scarce. Previous studies have typically examined severe infections, but studies of common infections are also scarce.

METHODS: Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) birth cohort, we examined 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. We performed additional analysis using infection burden ('low' = 0-4 infections, 'medium' = 5-6, 'high' = 7-9, or 'very high' = 10-22 infections) as the exposure.

RESULTS: The risk set comprised 11 786 individuals with childhood infection data. Number of childhood infections was associated with depressive symptoms from age 10 (adjusted beta = 0.14; standard error (s.e.) = 0.04; p = <0.01) to 17 years (adjusted beta = 0.17; s.e. = 0.08; p = 0.04), and with PEs at age 12 (suspected/definite PEs: adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.18; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.09-1.27). These effect sizes were larger when the exposure was defined as very high infection burden (depressive symptoms age 17: adjusted beta = 0.79; s.e. = 0.29; p = 0.01; suspected/definite PEs at age 12: adjusted OR = 1.60; 95% CI = 1.25-2.05). Childhood infections were not associated with depressive/psychotic outcomes at age 18 or 19.

CONCLUSIONS: Common early-childhood infections are associated with depressive symptoms up to mid-adolescence and with PEs subsequently in childhood, but not with these outcomes in early-adulthood. These findings require replication including larger samples with outcomes in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date13 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Nov 2020


  • childhood infection
  • cohort studies
  • depression
  • depressive symptoms
  • Inflammation
  • psychosis
  • psychotic experiences

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