Autism, Vaccines and Geography
You've probably heard this week about the British medical journal Lancet retracting a controversial 1998 study suggesting that the measles/mumps/rubella vaccination could increase the risk of children developing autism.
As The Los Angeles Times reports, the study led to a drop in vaccinations in Britain and the United States and an increase in measles.
This comes a week after a British medical panel ruled that Dr. Andrew Wakefield used unethical and unacceptable research practices in his study. Wakefield called the allegations against him "unfounded and unjust."
Now the Wall Street Journal reports about two autism studies that found higher incidences of autism in certain Los Angeles neighborhoods. Here are excerpts from the Journal story:
Both of the California-based studies suggest that local environmental or social factors are driving the high autism-diagnosis rates. And they conclude that childhood vaccinations-which some people fear is a factor behind rising autism-are not to blame. Otherwise, diagnoses of the disorder would be more evenly dispersed, they say.
The studies also disagree on some points. According to the UC Davis study, greater concentrations of autism occur in communities where parents are highly educated, which could mean they have more awareness of autism and access to treatment. By contrast, the Columbia researchers discount the role of educational levels. They believe that social influences, such as shared information about diagnoses, doctors and services, are largely responsible for the high rates they found in parts of Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles itself, residents have a variety of explanations for the high autism rates, ranging from a family's affluence and the activity of autism-advocacy groups to past air and water pollution.
What do you think? Has anyone done similar autism research in your area? What explains the clusters where the incidence of autism is higher?
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