Thursday, January 10, 2008

No Link Between Autism and Thimerosal: Where's the Media?

Okay, so now we have results from the first study of kids who were vaccinated after thimerosal (mercury) was removed from childhood vaccines. We've been waiting SIX years for these results. Six years of many parents hesitating whether to vaccinate their kids. Six years of the thimerosal-causes-autism camp doubting the very good ecological and epidemiological studies showing no link. Six years for kids who were immunized to show signs of autism. Six years later, a study in The Archives of General Psychiatry shows autism rates have not gone down despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines (see previous post). In fact, they've continued to rise.

And yet. Who would ever know it? Where is the media on this story?

This is important news, parents. This should go far in alleviating concerns that immunizations cause autism. The report came out on Tuesday and I've waited all week to see something in The New York Times. Sure they've posted an online story from the Associated Press. But nothing in the print editions. Guess we're too obsessed with Iowa and New Hampshire and the Barak versus Hillary Show. Nor anything in the print versions of other papers I peruse including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal (yeah, I know - my husbands!), and the Star Ledger (the Jersey rag). Nada.

Yet the political brouhaha didn't prevent The New York Times and other media heavy weights from covering a study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that scientists have found a gene linked to autism - in get this - 1% of autism cases. You can read Benedict Carey's "Study Says DNA Flaw May Raise Autism Risk." Guess this shows our growing preference for all things genetic. A headline from ABC News sums it up this way - "Autism May Be More Genes Than Environment, Studies Say" - a distortion of the evidence. S0 they've identified one gene that affects a tiny portion of children with autism and suddenly genes are in and environment out.

We should do more to understand the role between the environment and heredity. We're gathering more and more evidence that the environment influences genes (which ones are turned on and off so to speak) and vice versa - our nature versus nurture debate has become outdated. I loved reading Matt Ridley's Nature Via Nurture , a fascinating if not breezy discussion on the complex interplay between the two. But you'll probably have to find it at your library, it's not available on line these days.

But honestly, we should be getting this story out. Bloggers haven't missed its significance. Check out the intelligent discussion prompted by Orac (a surgeon's nom de blog) over at Respectful Insolence. Sure, this study only focused on kids in the California health system. But it's a huge state -and there's no reason to suspect the results would be different in other states. There's no reason autism rates should show a different pattern elsewhere.

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