Thursday, May 1, 2008

Measles outbreaks caused by autism fears?

From the Washington Independent:

The United States is suffering its worst measles outbreak in at least seven years, health officials announced Thursday, because parents who fear the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot aren't vaccinating their kids--in Israel, Switzerland, and here in the U.S. So far this year at least 70 cases have been reported, more than any year since the 116 cases of 2001. That number will easily be topped by the end of the year, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, head of the CDC's Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. There have been measles cases reported in 10 states this year. In the latest outbreak, eight unvaccinated children in a Washington state family fell ill after relatives attended an international church conference.

The article goes on to address the supposed link between vaccinations and autism:

The measles vaccine became available first in 1963. In the pre-vaccine era, 3-4 million American kids contracted measles each year; about 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized and another 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage. In the last big outbreak, in 1989-1991, there were 122 deaths. Then, most of the measles struck inner-city kids too poor to afford vaccines. Now, vaccines are free to those who need them, and the patients tend to be well-to-do people who think vaccination is dangerous. A British doctor claimed in 1998 that the MMR shot caused autism, creating a scare that has diminished vaccination rates around the world, though he's been conclusively proved wrong.

It isn't going to satisfy those who need something conclusive to blame, but I believe that the predominant reason for an increase in autism diagnosises is an increase in knowledge. Twenty years ago, little was known about the disorder aside from cases of classical autism, and even that was not in the mainstream consciousness. Before vaccinations there were people regarded as mentally ill, eccentric, slow and crazy. It's part of the human condition and it would be best to focus on helping bring these people into society.
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