Friday, April 11, 2008

autism from vaccinations?!

I hadn't heard anything about this issue until reading Laura Ungar's article in the C-J-- and then hearing Chelsea bring it up in her appearance at IUS.

Both pointed to a much greater occurrence of autism in recent years. Of course, our ability (and perhaps willingness) to diagnose have increased. But the rate of increase is still surprising. Ungar explores the controversy about whether vaccinations have contributed to its prevalence.

As a baby, Austin Pope seemed to be developing normally -- even at an advanced pace, saying 75 words at 18 months.

But a month after getting five vaccines in one day, an unusually high number at the time, Austin began regressing, said his mother, Janet Pope of Crestwood.

One morning, he woke up with a stiff neck and just flopped in her arms. Ultimately, he stopped talking, stopped making eye contact and retreated into the world of autism.

Pope, whose son is now 16, tells a common story, one she compares to a recent case that spotlights a long-simmering controversy about a possible link between childhood vaccinations and autism that has been rejected by the mainstream medical establishment.

This month, federal officials conceded that 9-year-old Hannah Poling of Athens, Ga., should be awarded damages from a federal vaccine-injury fund because vaccines worsened a rare mitochondrial dysfunction, a problem involving cell metabolism. This, they said, led to autism-like symptoms.

"I'm hoping this will break the issue wide open," said Pope, 52, a former emergency room nurse and Air Force major....

There is little dispute that autism has risen dramatically in recent decades; it now affects an estimated one in 150 children. In Kentucky, more than 24,000 residents have autism spectrum disorder, up from about 1,500 in 1990.

But many experts strongly disagree that vaccines have anything to do with the increase, attributing it instead to wider and better diagnosis. Some theorize that genetic and unknown environmental factors may combine to cause autism, and they view the Poling case as an exception rather than a precedent.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say "the weight of the evidence indicates that vaccines are not associated with autism" and cite an Institute of Medicine review saying much the same.

The CDC also says that while children get more vaccines than in the past -- five in a day is no longer unusual -- thimerosal generally hasn't been used as a preservative in routine childhood vaccines since 2001. The exception is some flu vaccines, although more than 10 million doses of thimerosal-free vaccine were expected to be produced for this flu season – using prefilled syringes or vials that don't require preservatives.

Despite this change, a January study from California, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, concluded that there hasn't been any recent decrease in autism in that state.

"There are scores of studies in millions of children that show absolutely no link between any vaccines and autism. Yet this idea persists, and every once in a while this fire is fed fuel," said Gary Marshall, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. "The parents latch onto it because they're looking for a cause.

"The public health emergency is that if parents don't vaccinate their children, it will not be long before we see these diseases raise their ugly heads again."...

Many doctors are just as passionate that the only connection between vaccines and autism is that the condition often shows its first symptoms around the time babies typically get shots.

Marshall said the link is purely anecdotal and cannot be given equal weight to the vast scientific evidence disputing it....

Autism-like symptoms are only one way the condition can present itself, Hersh said; others include muscle weakness or cardiac disease. He said parents whose children have mitochondrial disorders should discuss the vaccine issue with their doctors....


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