New research settles measles vaccine/autism controversy

New research from the United States will hopefully settle once and for all the controversial debate about a link between the measles vaccine and autism.

A study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, then of Britain's Royal Free Hospital, published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998, suggested the vaccine was linked to autism and gastrointestinal problems (GI).

Wakefield is currently subject to disciplinary action for professional misconduct by Britain's General Medical Council and 10 of his collaborators on the study have formally withdrawn their original Lancet study.

But the damage was done and thousands of parents then refused to have their children vaccinated, with the result that outbreaks of measles have become an issue in both the UK and the U.S. with the highest numbers of cases being reported for many years.

Measles is responsible for the deaths of 250,000 people a year worldwide, mostly children in poor nations.

However scientists who recently attempted to replicate Dr. Wakefield's study have been unable to find any link between the measles vaccine and autism.

It is hoped the study will restore parents confidence and prompt them to vaccinate their children to combat a spate of measles outbreaks.

The study will bolster reassurances from public health officials that the combined measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, shot and other childhood vaccines is safe and will not cause autism or other problems.

Regardless of numerous studies and research from scientists around the world, showing no connection between autism and any vaccinations, many are still suspicious of the safety of childhood vaccines and despite the U.S. Institute of Medicine publishing several definitive reports showing no connection between autism and any vaccinations.

For the study scientists at Columbia University in New York and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked for evidence of genetic material from the measles virus in intestinal tissue samples taken from 25 children with autism who also had GI problems.

They then compared these to samples from 13 children of similar ages who had GI problems but no autism.

During the analysis process which took place in three laboratories, the researchers were not told which came from the children with autism - one of the labs had been involved in the original controversial study.

Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University says no difference were found in children who had GI complaints and no autism and children who had autism but no GI complaints.

The team had also collected data regarding the children's health and immunization histories from parents and doctors in order to see if vaccinations preceded either their autism or bowel trouble.

Dr. Mady Hornig, also from Columbia University, says no relationship between the timing of MMR vaccine and the onset of either GI complaints or autism was found but evidence was found that children with autism have persistent bowel troubles that need to be addressed.

According to the CDC about 1 in every 150 children has autism or a related disorder such as Asperger's syndrome and as many as 560,000 people up to age 21 in the United States are affected.

The findings are reported in the journal Public Library of Science.

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