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Studies: No Link Between Autism, Vaccines

Preservative in Childhood Vaccines Not a Cause of Autism, Researchers Find
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 7, 2004 -- Thimerosal, the preservative formerly used in vaccines, and autism are not linked, according to three new studies.

It's been controversial for years, this theory that vaccines containing thimerosal could cause neurological and psychological problems like autism. Many studies have discounted this link, but many parents have not been convinced.

In 2001, thimerosal was removed from all routinely recommended childhood vaccines as a precautionary measure.

In this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics, two large studies from the U.K. show no significant link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and abnormal neurological development. The third study is a careful review of all research published thus far.

The Newest Evidence

In the first study in Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data on more than 14,000 children, tracking their vaccinations at 3, 4, and 6 months of age as well as their calculated mercury exposure. They compared the data with information on the children's brain and motor development from age 6 months to age 7 or 8, when many children are diagnosed with autism.

The researchers looked at various outcomes including behavioral, speech, and other development milestones.

They also took into account other factors that might have skewed their data -- like the baby's birth weight, premature birth, whether the mother smoked, if the baby was breastfed, and ethnicity.

In the end, "we could find no convincing evidence" that early childhood exposure to thimerosal had any harmful effect on the children's brain, motor skill, or behavioral development, writes lead researcher Jon Heron, PhD, a pediatric epidemiologist with the University of Bristol in England.

"This is reassuring news," writes Heron.

However, there was a slight conflict with the second study in Pediatrics.

In the second study, children getting vaccines had more behavior tics -- possibly minor, short-lived tics, writes researcher Nick Andrews, MSc, an epidemiologist with the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre in London.

Andrews analyzed data on nearly 110,000 British children, comparing the amount of thimerosal in the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) and the diphtheria-tetanus (DT) vaccines with incidence of developmental disorders.

The vaccines actually seemed to lower the risk of general developmental disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), writes Andrews.

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