By Rosie Waterhouse (UKTimes)
Mercury in vaccines for babies and infantscould be the cause of a steep rise in cases of autism in childrenaround the world, according to a growing number of scientists.
The increase in reports of autism in Britain,America and some other countries coincides with a growth inthe number of inoculations given to young children, say theresearchers.
Many of the vaccines contain a preservativecalled thiomersal,which is 49.6% mercury- a substance known to have neurotoxic effects, especiallyin infants whose brains are still developing.
Symptoms aresimilar to those displayed by autistic children.
Autism is a spectrum of disorders thatrange in severity from bizarre, violent behavior to an inabilityto communicate or interact socially, along with repetitivepatterns of behavior.
Estimates of the prevalence of the syndromein Britain range from 10cases per 10,000 of the population with "classic"autism, to 9.1 cases per 1,000 showing some signs of autisticbehavior.
The National Autistic Society estimatesthat there are about 500,000 people with autism in Britain,120,000 of them children. According to one recent study, therehas been a tenfold increaseamong children between 1984 and 1994.
The new possible explanation of the risehas emerged after a two-month review of all the availableinformation by The Sunday Times. Several groups of academicsand researchers in America and Sweden are investigating similartheories that a combination of factors is to blame.
They include a genetic predisposition,the cumulative effects of mercury in vaccines lowering theimmune system, with the controversial measles, mumps and rubella(MMR) triple vaccine being a possible trigger.
The US Institute of Medicine is so concernedthat officials have organized a two-day meeting in July todiscuss the "hypothesis" that thiomersal and mercuryin vaccines are linked to autism.
Boyd Haley, chemistry professor at theUniversity of Kentucky, has been asked to submit a paper."Thiomersal is extremely toxic. The preliminary datais convincing and does indicate that vaccines are the mostlikely suspect for causing autism," he said.
In general, the researchers argue, thecumulative effects of mercury impairbrain development and damage the child's immune system andgastrointestinal tract, resulting in hypersensitivityto toxic environmental substances.
This build-up could lead to autism ora form of mercury poisoning - whose symptoms are similar.In addition, researchers believe, the MMR triple vaccine,usually given at 18 months to two years, could trigger autismbecause the damaged immune system cannot cope with three liveviruses at once.
Only some children exposed to mercurywill develop symptoms. Researchers believe this indicatesthat there may be a genetic predisposition. This theory wasreinforced by a study published this month that showed thatin 99% of autistic children a family of proteins essentialfor disposing of mercury and other heavy metals is missingor "disabled".
The proteins, called metallothionein (MT),are the main way in which the body counters heavy metal. Thestudy, by the Chicago-based Pfeiffer Center, a health researchinstitute, found that of 503 autistic patients 499 showedan MT "dysfunction".
The numberof vaccinations given to babies and children in Britain andAmerica has increased significantly.
In the United States the number givenbefore the age of two has risen from 8in 1980 to 22 now.
In Britain in 1970, most children receiveddiphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough and BCG for tuberculosis;about half were also immunized against measles. In 1972 rubellawas added; MMR in 1988, Hib (Haemophilus Influenza type b),against a form of meningitis in 1992, MMR as a second dosein 1996, and meningitis C in 1999.
The MMR first dose is given between 12and 15 months, with diphtheria and tetanus and the seconddose of MMR at three to five years.
MMR does not contain thiomersal, thoughother child vaccines do. Thiomersal was introduced in the1930s as a preservative and went into common use without reviewby America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because itwas assumed to be safe.
In America, researchers found some infantswho are being vaccinated using multidose vials with thiomersalcan receive 62.5 micrograms of mercury per visit.
This is 100times more than the intake considered safe for the averagesix-month-old by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
In June 1999 the FDA discovered that:"Infants who receive thiomersal-containing vaccine atseveral visits may have been exposed to more mercury thanrecommended by Federal guidelines." The following monththe European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products(EMEA) issued a statement saying: "Cumulative exposureto ethylmercury [found in thiomersal] . . . could lead toa potential cause for concern."
In May last year, a scientist from theUS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave apresentation, based on a study of the Vaccine Safety DatalinkProject - a database of 400,000 children - with evidence ofharm. Dr Thomas Verstraeten of the CDC found the screeninganalysis suggests "statistically significant associations"between certain neurologic developmental disorders - suchas attention deficit disorder, and speech and language disorders- and exposure to mercury from thiomersal-containing vaccinesbefore the age of six months.
As a result, the EMEA issued another statementlast June, saying: "For vaccination in infants and toddlers,as a precautionary measure it would be prudent to promotethe general use of vaccines without thiomersal. Moreover,the use of thiomersal-freevaccines should be recommended for newborns."
Neither of these EMEA statements receivednational newspaper publicity in Britain, and at least 10 thiomersal-containingvaccines for children are still in use as drug manufacturersare permitted to finish stocks.
Jane Maroney El-Dahr, an immunologistat Tulane University medical center in New Orleans, said:"It is important for me to emphasize that the messageis not to not vaccinate children, but to make sure that vaccinesare thiomersal-free."
The health department said: "Thiomersalhas played an important role as a preservative in vaccines.
Because thiomersal contains mercury, bothEuropean and American regulators have recently recommendedthat vaccine manufacturers phase out its use wherever possibleas a precaution. They have not recommended the withdrawalof any vaccines.
Imaginethat, giving a newborn baby a substance that is highly toxicto the central nervous system.
I have seen hundreds and hundreds ofautistic children and have reached the conclusion that many,certainly not all, had the root cause of their illness thehepatitis B vaccine they were given on their first day ofbreathing air.
The central nervous system of a newborninfant is particularly susceptible to toxic influences. Thisis one of the reasons why the hepatitis B vaccine is sucha problem. If it were given later in life, like many othercountries do, it would not be as much of a problem.
This is especially tragic as thereis virtually no legitimate indication to give this vaccineat birth. The only infants that may benefit are those bornto women infected with hepatitis B.