Marcos Bretón

Opinion: Autism research vaccinates us from infectious lies

Visitors wait in line to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Disneyland, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Anaheim, Calif. Several people have been infected in a measles outbreak that led California public health officials to urge those who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, including children too young to be immunized, to avoid Disney parks where the spread originated.
Visitors wait in line to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Disneyland, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Anaheim, Calif. Several people have been infected in a measles outbreak that led California public health officials to urge those who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, including children too young to be immunized, to avoid Disney parks where the spread originated. AP

The lie won’t die: A measles outbreak that started at Disneyland has infected nearly 90 people in seven states and Mexico. The virus is spreading, in part, because of parents who refused to immunize their children for fear the measles vaccine would cause autism.

“How do I say this without sounding crazy?” asked Gary Monahan, a Costa Mesa city councilman, in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. After one of Monahan’s children was diagnosed with autism, he refused to have his four youngest kids immunized. And on it goes.

Most of the California patients in the current measles outbreak were not immunized.

This reality has given voice to people like Monahan who want to believe what they want to believe – even if it means measles is spreading like it’s the 1970s again.

While worried parents continue to spread the vaccine myth, real scientists go about the work of studying what actually causes autism, whose sufferers have difficulty communicating and interacting socially. Guess what? They’re not looking at measles vaccines. The question was settled long ago. The connection between autism and measles vaccines has been discredited. Period.

At places like the MIND Institute at UC Davis, researchers are making progress on learning more about why an exploding number of children are being placed on the autism spectrum.

“In 1990, 6.2 of every 10,000 children born in the California were diagnosed with autism by the age of 5, compared with 42.5 in 10,000 born in 2001,” wrote Scientific American in a 2009 article.

In 2009, a UC Davis study challenged old ideas about autism and began looking at environmental factors, such as fetuses that had been exposed to chemicals in household products and pesticides. Irva Hertz-Picciotto and Lora Delwiche of UC Davis analyzed 17 years of state data and found that the improved awareness of autism in the medical community accounted for less than half of the spike in autism numbers.

A 2014 UC Davis study also found a link between pesticides used on farms and women who gave birth to children on the autism spectrum.

UC Davis Immunology researcher Judy Van de Water is studying how food allergies affect autism. She and other Davis researchers have identified immune system differences in kids with autism. MIND Institute researchers also have concluded that intensive treatment of infants on the autism spectrum can alleviate symptoms for most by age 3.

With little fanfare, this important work chips away at the profound complexities of autism – even as myths and lies about the condition persist in headlines.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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