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Gov't: Girl’s Autism-Like Symptoms Linked to Vaccines

Federal Officials Say Vaccines Worsened Condition That Led to Autism Spectrum Disorder in Georgia Girl

Autism Expert: Case Is "Rare"

A pediatrician who serves on a childhood vaccine advisory committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sees the case differently. "To say mercury causes autism is a giant leap," says Jaime Deville, MD, a pediatrician at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California Los Angeles.

"Epidemiological studies do not support the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines causes autism in the general population,'' he tells WebMD. "However, there might be individual sporadic, or rare cases in which patients have an adverse reaction after a dose of a vaccine that might exacerbate a pre-existing condition."

That was the contention in Hannah's case -- that Hannah developed a disorder of the mitochondria, the cells' "power sources," before developing autism-like symptoms.

In a statement, Chuck Mohan, executive director and CEO of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, says science has not linked vaccines to mitochondrial disorders.

"There are no scientific studies documenting that childhood vaccinations cause or worsen mitochondrial diseases, but there is very little scientific research in this area," the statement reads. "Mitochondrial diseases are as prevalent as childhood leukemia, however the National Institutes of Health devotes only $11 million a year to research into mitochondrial disorders and only about one-third of that is earmarked for primary mitochondrial disease research.  Many scientists believe unmasking the causes of mitochondrial disease may lead to possible cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer."

Deville worries that parents will again shy away from vaccines. "I would expect parents to start calling pediatricians," he tells WebMD. But he adds that Hannah's situation "seems to be an isolated case."

He also points out: "Once mercury was removed [from most childhood vaccines] in 2001, autism cases did not decline."

He doubts that the decision will spur further research into the proposed vaccine-autism link, partly because of a lack of research funding.

Autism-Vaccine Link: Hannah's Story

According to the government concession in the Poling case, Hannah had met her "developmental milestones" such as crawling and walking on schedule during her first 18 months. But two days after receiving nine childhood vaccines (five shots) in July 2000, she developed a 102.3-degree fever and became irritable and lethargic. The symptoms continued and worsened over the next few months.

By the fall of 2000, the parents became worried about her language development and had her assessed. The health care professional examining her concluded there were deficits in communication and social development.

Complicating the picture was a history of middle ear infections which began at age 7 months, and the need to prescribe multiple rounds of antibiotics and to insert pressure-equalization tubes.

By February, 2001, doctors examining Hannah found that she had a persistent loss of previously acquired language, lacked eye contact, and did not relate well to others. She persistently screamed and arched her back. Doctors concluded that she was developmentally delayed and had features of autism spectrum disorder.

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