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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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
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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.

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.

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