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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-Vaccine Link: Hannah's Story continued...

Later in 2001, doctors found a defect in "cellular energetics" and diagnosed a disorder of the mitochrondria.

Her father, Jon, then a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, co-authored a paper describing how autistic spectrum disorders can be associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. It was published in 2006 in the Journal of Child Neurology.

Accepting his daughter's diagnosis was difficult, Poling tells WebMD. He says the family was in denial initially that anything was seriously wrong. "After six months of essentially our daughter being a zombie and gone, we knew this wasn't going away," he says. "This was chronic.  And we had to come to grips with that."

Still, Poling says his daughter's experience has not turned him against vaccines; he just wants any vaccination risks to be acknowledged and addressed.

"I want to make it clear I am not anti-vaccine," he says. "Vaccines are one of the most important, if not the most important advance, in medicine in at least the past 100 years. But I don't think that vaccines should enjoy a sacred cow status, where if you attack them you are out of mainline medicine.

"Every treatment has a risk and a benefit," he says. "To say there are no risks to any treatment is not true.

"I don't think the case should scare people," Poling adds. "Sometimes people are injured by a vaccine, but they are safe for the majority of people. I could say that with a clean conscience. But I couldn't say that vaccines are absolutely safe, that they are not linked to brain injury and they are not linked to autism."

Poling hopes the fed's decision will trigger government action. "I hope it will force government agencies to look further into what susceptibility factors are out there for children to develop brain injury after vaccination, to look into the susceptibility factors of people at risk."

His advice for parents? They should demand to know a vaccine's safety record before agreeing to give it to their child, including any known links with metabolic disorders and susceptibility to injury, he says.

Mitochondial Disease

Hannah Poling suffered from a form of mitochondrial disease caused by a genetic defect in her mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondria are organelles -- tiny bodies within our cells -- that carry their own DNA, which we inherit from our mothers. Mitochondria provide the energy cells need to function.

Edwin Trevathan, MD, MPH, director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said at the news conference that when children with mitochondrial disorders are placed under severe stress, such as a high fever, their bodies don't make enough energy. This often damages the brain, the body organ that needs the most energy.

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