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Vaccine Linked to Autism?

Link dismissed between MMR vaccine and autism.

Parents Point to Research

Many parents, such as Fisher and Shattock, who maintain that they witnessed sudden, unmistakable physical and emotional deterioration in their children following MMR vaccination, point to a small body of research showing certain immunological and neurological irregularities in many autistic children that may be linked to MMR.

A number of studies published in the past few years point to a connection between autoimmune reactions and autism. In one study, published in the February 1998 issue of the Lancet, Andrew Wakefield, FRCS, of Royal Free Hospital in London, and colleagues found evidence of a possible connection between autism and the measles virus found in the bowels of autistic children.

Wakefield and Shattock hypothesize that the combination of the three live viruses in the MMR could overload the immature immune systems of some toddlers who have some unknown genetic or immunological predisposition to this, leading to neurological and gastrointestinal problems.

The Danger in Not Vaccinating

A team of researchers at Children's Hospital of Newark, New Jersey, has consistently found high levels of immunological irregularities in autistic patients, some of whom have responded well to intensive treatment with immune globulin, a preparation made from the blood plasma of human donors. This information was presented at a National Institutes of Health meeting on autism in September 1997.

However, Tina Zecca, M.D., and Donatella Graffino, M.D., who were a part of this team, say that even given this research, they would still vaccinate their children because they believe the benefits of the MMR vaccination outweigh any potential risks. "These childhood diseases are serious, with potentially grave neurological complications, including encephalitis," says Zecca.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain that can lead to death. According to the CDC, measles can lead to seizures, brain damage, and death; mumps can cause hearing loss and meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord coverings); and rubella can cause birth defects and cause pregnant women to lose their babies.

"The jury is still out," says Fisher. "Until more evidence is gathered, we won't know whether or not a connection exists." Until more is understood about possible risk factors for adverse reactions to the MMR vaccine, Fisher urges parents to first give their child's physician a full family history, including information about any neurological or autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease, arthritis, or diabetes.

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