Sunday, July 08, 2007

Autism Surge & Vaccines - It Ain't Over Til It's Over

"It ain't over til it's over"" - Yogi Berra

Even as the mercury autism proceedings unfold in the US and long after I had thought the issue of vaccines and autism was no longer a serious issue comes word of another big surge in autism cases and more expressions of belief by health care professionals that the surge is linked to vaccines. The UK autism figures are surprising. The 1 in 150 figure from the CDC in the US has given way in the UK to 1 in 100, with some sources reporting 1 in 86, and now one report indicating 1 in 58. Why is the UK rate so much different from that reported by the CDC? IF there is a real difference between the American and UK figures, and not just differences in reporting or diagnosis, what could explain the differences other than environmental factors? Some medical professionals in the UK are again pointing to vaccines. The scientific and professional debate might be refueled by this news but will pale in comparison to the inter-net wars between the mercury causes autism believers and the Neurodiversity camp. Fasten your seat belts folks we will soon be experiencing more autism turbulence.

Whatever the explanation for the UK surge in autism figures it is clear that the world still has much to learn about autism, rates of autism and the big question what causes, or what group of factors, cause autism? As the great sage Yogi Berra said "it ain't over til its over".

New health fears over big surge in autism

· Experts 'concerned' by dramatic rise
· Questions over triple jab for children

Denis Campbell, health correspondent
Sunday July 8, 2007
The Observer

The number of children in Britain with autism is far higher than previously thought, according to dramatic new evidence by the country's leading experts in the field.

A study, as yet unpublished, shows that as many as one in 58 children may have some form of the condition, a lifelong disability that leads to many sufferers becoming isolated because they have trouble making friends and often display obsessional behaviour.

Seven academics at Cambridge University, six of them from its renowned Autism Research Centre, undertook the research by studying children at local primary schools. Two of the academics, leaders in their field, privately believe that the surprisingly high figure may be linked to the use of the controversial MMR vaccine. That view is rejected by the rest of the team, including its leader, the renowned autism expert, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen.

The team found that one in 58 children has either autism or a related autistic spectrum disorder. Nationwide, that could be as many as 210,000 children under 16. The research is significant because that figure is well above the existing estimate of one in 100, which specialist bodies such as the National Autistic Society have until now accepted as correct. It is also significantly more than the previous highest estimate of one in 86, which was reported in research published last year in the Lancet.

Some experts who previously explained the rise in autism as the result of better diagnosis and a broader definition of the condition now believe the upward trend revealed by studies such as this indicates that there has been a real rise in the numbers of children who are affected by it. Although the new research is purely statistical and does not examine possible explanations for the rise, two of the authors believe that the MMR jab, which babies receive at 12 to 15 months, might be partly to blame. Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott both say it could be a factor in small numbers of children.

Professor Baron-Cohen, director of the centre and the country's foremost authority on the condition, said he did not believe there was any link between the three-in-one vaccination and autism. Genetics, better recognition of the condition, environmental factors such as chemicals and children's exposure to hormones in the womb, especially testosterone, were more likely to be the cause, he commented. 'As for MMR, at this point one can conclude that evidence does not support the idea that the MMR causes autism.'

Baron-Cohen and his team studied the incidence of autism and autistic spectrum disorders among some 12,000 children at primary school in Cambridgeshire between 2001 and 2004. He was so concerned by the one in 58 figure that last year he proposed informing public health officials in the county.

Controversy over the MMR jab erupted in 1998 after Dr Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, said he no longer believed it was safe and might cause autism and inflammatory bowel disease in children. Many parents panicked and MMR take-up fell dramatically. More families opted to have their child immunised privately through three separate injections to avoid the possibility of their immune system being overloaded by the MMR jab, thus leaving them at greater risk of infections.

The medical and scientific establishment denied Wakefield's claim, described research he had co-authored as 'bad science', and sought to reassure the public, with limited success. Wakefield and two former Royal Free colleagues are due to appear before the General Medical Council next week to answer charges relating to the 1998 research. The trio could be struck off.

The doctors' disciplinary body claims that Wakefield acted 'dishonestly and 'irresponsibly' in dealings with the Lancet, was 'misleading' in the way he sought research funding from the Legal Aid Board, and 'acted unethically and abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner' by taking blood from children after offering them money.

A book to be published this month by Dr Richard Halvorsen, a London GP who provides single vaccines privately to babies of parents concerned about MMR, will fuel the controversy. It will present new evidence of children allegedly being damaged by vaccinations and linking increased autism to MMR.

But Dr David Salisbury, national director for vaccines and immunisation at the Department of Health, said last night: 'The evidence is absolutely clear. No published study has ever shown a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. It is absolute nonsense to suggest otherwise.


Anonymous said...

It's a pity that the Observer item didn't point out that the two individuals who "privately" suspected MMR, were in fact hired by lawyers to criticise MMR, and that one of them was involved in a disciplinary hearing over this.

The stuff is here:

Anonymous said...

Yes, that Dr Carol Stott lady is totally discredited, having been fired by the university and having been reprimanded by the BPS. Dr Wakefield himself looks to be in serious trouble with the GMC. A good review of these swindlers can be seen over at The Autism Diva. Yeah, I know. But just because Dawson's fan club are wrong about ABA, doesn't mean they're wrong about MMR and vaccines.

Maya M said...

Several months ago, a Center for Autism was opened in my city (as far as I know, the first of its kind in the country). I watched a TV interview with two psychologists, members of the Center's board. The interviewer asked them what causes autism. They replied that vaccines are believed to be the cause and that autism had been unknown in Japan before MMR was introduced.
I rushed to the computer, made a Google search and within minutes obtained entries showing that exactly Japan has proved lack of correlation between MMR and autism. At one moment, the MMR in Japan was discontinued because of problems unrelated to autism, yet autism prevalence continued to rise among unvaccinated children (e.g.
So my decision to keep my son away from programs for autistic children became firmer. I don't want people who haven't caught with the level of current science about autism (however unsatisfactory this level is) to learn their craft on my child.
Claims that the condition X didn't exist before year Y or before factor Z came into action must be met with utmost caution. Rett syndrome, now known to be caused by a gene mutation, was first described in 1966. Perhaps before that date DNA didn't mutate? Down syndrome was first described in 1866. Perhaps it didn't exist before? No, there just was nobody to study it. People with Down syndrome were dumped into institutions without any professional even looking at them. When Dr. Down began his research, all his colleagues were amazed how he could be interested in "idiots".

VinnyR said...

Also please read the following article from Dr Ben Goldacre. It has also been printed in the sister paper of the Observer, The Guardian.

It is really something when a newspaper allows severe criticism of its own articles to be printed.