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Biotech Science

Thimerosal Does Not Cause Autism 298

jamie found an article over at Washington Monthly discussing the recent finding that there is no link between thimerosal and autism. It seems that after the mercury-based vaccine preservative was withdrawn from use in 1999, no drop in autism rates has been observed in a large California study. Here's the Science Daily writeup on the study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
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Thimerosal Does Not Cause Autism

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  • by Mordac ( 1009 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:03PM (#21958954)
    This little nugget can't be understated. Irrational fear mongering has caused a lot of problems. The bad news is even after all the research showing there is no link, we won't get it back, so we have to keep looking for other methods (that maybe more dangerous and/or costly.)
  • Re:Inaccurate (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mordac ( 1009 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:07PM (#21959036)
    Thimerasol includes Mercury in the way that Water includes Hydrogen.

    The link to autism has never been there, every study has shown it. Its time to spend money looking for the real culprit and not blaming vaccines.

    A more likely route is look at the age of the fathers, there seems to be evidence pointing to parental age having to be a likely cause of autism rates rising (that and the mass over diagnosis, and more mental illnesses being classified as Autism.)

    This is not a simple issue. And the mercury = autism people are just trying to make it easier, and instead make it harder for everyone.
  • This is established (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:09PM (#21959078) Journal
    The link between thimerosal and autism has already been pretty thoroughly disproven [corante.com]. (Link to a blog rather than the paper because 1) it's a good summary and 2) I'm not sure whether the link is freely readable.) Whatever merit this hypothesis had in the past, any future work on it that "activists" manage to force clearly comes at the expense of projects that might be genuinely useful.
  • Re:Mercury (Score:2, Informative)

    by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:19PM (#21959296)
    You should check out this stuff: http://www.dhmo.org/ [dhmo.org]

  • Re:Mercury (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dr.Enormous ( 651727 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:23PM (#21959376)
    Sodium(0) catches fire/explodes on contact with water.
    Sodium(I) is critical for sustaining life.

    Just because Mercury is toxic, and organomercury compounds will kill you stone dead, doesn't mean every single compound with mercury in it isn't safe. Oxidation state and ligands make all the difference. Linking to "Mercury hazards" is meaningless.
  • by Stormcrow309 ( 590240 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:27PM (#21960488) Journal

    Cite or get off the pot. Speaking of which, I would suggest this paper [ehponline.org] and this paper [informaworld.com] as a good start. There is major concern from Thimerosal toxicity in long term treatments, such as blood plasma programs, due to the introduction of more Thimerosal to the system then ethylmercury, the type of mercury that Thimerosal becomes, can be cleared. However, there seems to be more risk from dental amalgam then a single vaccination. Concern should be for long term series, such as a long term gamma globulin series, which is becoming rare.

  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:16PM (#21961334)

    Autism symptoms don't develop at 2 months, the time when the first vaccine is mandated.

    Or, heck, even at birth, now that Hep-B shots before leaving the hospital are all the rage.

    And you are presenting this in favor of the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism? Seriously?

    With "factual analysis" by morons like you backing them up, it's little wonder crap statistical analyses like "this doesn't cause Autism" is the major focus, when spending the money on finding out what *does* cause it would be real science, but that ain't happenin'.

    And who told you this? The guys selling "vaccines cause autism" books and quack chelation therapy? I was at the Neuroscience meeting in San Diego last year, and I saw row on row of posters describing work on the causes of autism. Try this: go to PubMed [nih.gov] and type "autism" into the search box. There have been some important recent breakthroughs indicating a genetic basis for autism [harvardmagazine.com]. Identifying the genes is an important step toward figuring out what goes wrong and developing a therapy. What doesn't contribute is investing yet more time and money pursuing the long-rejected notion that mercury or vaccines causes autism.

    If you had half a brain cell to rub together, you might also be interested in this article, which has not been refuted by anyone.

    Oh wow, an article in the respected scientific journal Rolling Stone. And it has not been refuted by anyone? Not even here? [blogs.com] Or here? [blogspot.com] Or here? [aappublications.org] Or here? [neurodiversity.com]
  • by Wavicle ( 181176 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @08:08PM (#21962858)
    That's just trying to divert the issue.

    What is not in question is that, since 1999, the amount of Mercury children have been receiving via Thimerosol has dropped drastically but the rate of autism diagnosis is still increasing.

    Turned on its head you could argue that since the rate of autism has increased since the removal of Thimerosol, then Thimerosol must actually have a protective effect against autism. (That assertion is, of course, utter nonsense. But that's what you get when you go chasing a non-correlated variable.)
  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @09:11PM (#21963508)
    I read these summaries of studies which claim to demonstrate that there is no link, and I can't help but think bullshit.

    These are researchers looking to make a huge splash, and their premise is faulty. While it is possible that the removal of the thimerosal is making no change, it is impossible at this point to reach that conclusion. We would need to have a stable rate for autism in the general population before this sort of statistical analysis is adequate.

    That being said, it could very well turn out that the compound in question is safe, and that it is not worth the pain of banning it, but it isn't prudent to assume so. Especially since thimerosal is known to contain toxic chemicals such as methyl and ethyl mercury based compounds, and there is no reasonable argument that ingesting those types of chemicals is safe.
  • Re:In other news (Score:3, Informative)

    by Thangodin ( 177516 ) <elentarNO@SPAMsympatico.ca> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @10:58PM (#21964422) Homepage
    Nobody here seems to be aware of where this rumour started. The doctor responsible, Wakefield, published an article with cooked results largely on the request of an ambulance-chasing law firm which was suing the drug companies, and for whom Wakefield was making a lucrative career as an expert witness. The motivation was greed, pure and simple. Wakefield's article got picked up by reporters in England and they made an hour documentary about it on TV, and all hell broke loose.

    It quickly became obvious to other doctors and researchers that Wakefield cooked his results, but the media fear machine was already in high gear. Wakefield is finished as a doctor for his mind-boggling ethical breaches. The entire thing was a hoax, and yet look at all the people who actually think there is a link... to this day. There never was.

    There are, however, hundreds of kids who are now paralyzed because their parents decided not to give them vaccinations. Many of these diseases can infect the spinal cord and damage it. Furthermore, the diseases have now made a comeback, and mutating, and may soon evolve into strains for which there are no vaccines. At that point, there will be thousands of kids dying or paralyzed as a result of the efforts of a lot of cranks who have no medical knowledge beyond "Mercury Bad!" Like people who wince and gag when a wiff of tobacco smoke drifts their way, thinking that a single atom will transform them instantly into a tumour, these idiots forget what even the ancient Greeks knew--that poisons become poisons by the dosage. Your body can handle low dosages of all kinds of toxic shit--it does so all the time.

    The reason that autism is rising is that the number of systemetizers in the population, people like programmers, engineers, scientists--basically, nerds--is increasing, and certain job pools, and hobbies, draw nerds together. The biggest boon to nerd socializing was the internet. Now you actually have nerds marrying and having kids. Previously, being generally shy and often lacking social skills, nerds had a hard time finding each other. Autistics are extreme systemetizers. I'm quite certain that if I met and married a girl as nerdy as I am and we had four kids, at least one would be autistic. Look at the Wired article on Ausperger's Syndrome [wired.com]. And if you're a coder, look around at your co-workers. I'm sure you've met at least one textbook case of Auspergers in your career.
  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:54AM (#21965168)
    The infrastructure makes a real difference in the need for good preservatives, agreed. That said, there are lots of reasons to go ahead and build that infrastructure in the third world.

    1. lots of clinics with reliable refrigeration will let those clinics preserve samples where an outbreak of something really nasty, such as Ebola Zaire, is suspected. Better roads, or even runways and committed planes, will let local governments and the UN respond to such outbreaks more quickly. A dedicated radio type link would let them be reported more quickly, in the first place.
            Malaria is affected by sickle cell trait and it can be useful to have blood samples and test populations to see how many have a sickle cell gene on just one side of their code, as they are resistant to Malaria's spread. The UN has expressed an interest in being able to test rural populations in bulk and get advance predictions for which ones are more vulnerable to Malaria epidemics. Right now, such testing involves trying to take a random sample of a small percentage of people and hopefully get ones who are not more closely genetically related than the average for the area, which is pretty tricky.

    2. There are other medications that need refrigerated or transported quickly besides vaccines. Some of the statin drugs, for example, are both light and heat sensitive, time sensitive, and extremely useful but have to be given in large quantities - too large to want to use a mercury based preservative even if the smaller amounts found in vaccines are completely safe. Anti-parasite drugs, particularly targeting some of the larger worms, commonly have this problem too (you probably don't want to know more).
            Some vaccines don't work well with mercury preservatives and sometimes, development of a new vaccine has been stopped because it didn't do well in small scale trials just because it wasn't ruggedized enough to stay effective in the areas where that disease was prevalent.

  • by jezor ( 51922 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:56AM (#21965184) Homepage
    Do not conflate the MMR theory with that of thimerosal as a cause of autism. The two are totally different: the former postulates that, for a subsection of the population, the immune system is overwhelmed by the sudden introduction of 3 viruses, causing damage to the intestinal tract and possible crossing of the blood-brain barrier and neurological damage. The latter theory postulates that, for a different subsection of the population, an inability to properly flush out toxic mercury leads to its accretion in the brain, also causing similar neurological damage. Different causes (although both potentially arising out of vaccination), same symptoms (symptoms which, not incidentally, resemble those of heavy metal poisoning), both very hard to test for (since they require both genetic predisposition and particular causes).

    It's very hard to prove a negative, and since the mercury theory is just one of many possible contributing causes to the autism explosion (numbers not sufficiently explained by better diagnoses, since we would otherwise see the same percentage of undiagnosed adults in the general population with untreated autism spectrum disorders of similar severity, and we just don't), the fact that thimerosal has been eliminated but a continued rise is seen does *not* therefore disprove the thimerosal hypothesis. All it says is that, for the population tested, those specific individuals may have had their autism brought on by other factors besides thimerosal.

    Whether or not the autism link is significant, I am personally thrilled (as a parent of one child on the spectrum and others who aren't) that we are eliminating mercury from injections given to our children--why put a known neurotoxin into their bloodstreams, particularly at such a young age? As for the MMR, the easiest approach (which we followed) was to find a pediatrician willing to seek out the vaccines in single form rather than bunched, to allow potentially sensitive children to get one at a time, absorb it, and then get the next. It also makes sense to actually test children for immunity rather than giving boosters blindly. {ProfJonathan}

    (P.s. My son who is on the spectrum is a budding animator. See his stop motion, Flash and mashups here [youtube.com].)

  • by NIckGorton ( 974753 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @03:29AM (#21965852)

    Given that a child's immune system is at best only partially developed before the age of six months, it's somewhat irritating to me that doctors regularly inject 7 vaccines at a time into children as young as 1 month of age.
    Um, there's your answer. Your 5 year old does not need as much protection as your 5 month old, because the 5 year old is more capable of fighting infection. The only reason we don't give newborns a full round of shots as soon as they come out of mom is that they have to reach a certain age to respond well to most shots (not so to hep B.)

    Most countries wait until at least 6 months of age before beginning the injections of MMR and DtAP vaccines.
    First off, its DTaP, not DtAP (which becomes important below.)

    Second your statement is quite untrue. If you look at the WHO's vaccine information, you can see the vaccine schedules for various countries. http://www.who.int/vaccines/globalsummary/immunization/scheduleselect.cfm [who.int]

    If you search for DTaP, you will indeed find that many countries list the first time they give this as a much older age than we do in the US. However, this is not because they leave their kids vulnerable, but because the first diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccinations are often given with DTwP which is cheaper. In older kids, if you use the whole cell pertussis component they have worse side effects (which are rare in infants and younger children). So you use the cheap DTwP first, then the DTaP later in childhood. So stating that 'most countries' give DTaP at a much later age is misleading at best.

    The plural of anecdote is 'not data'.
  • by LoofWaffle ( 976969 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:44PM (#21970012)
    Your prior post assumes that all people who believe that autism is caused by vaccination simply don't vaccinate. However, the more educated either look for single vaccines (DTaP, HepB, IPV) instead of the "cocktails" (Pediarix) which use thimerosal as a binding agent or we choose a different vaccination schedule (waiting 12 months before starting the HepB cycle instead of getting it right out of the womb) from what is recommended if we can't get those vaccines in individual shots.

    As for vaccines being "one-time only", I am unaware of a vaccine that doesn't require some sort of booster shot after a period of time. In fact, the chicken pox vaccine was recently discovered to require a booster now that some of the long term studies have been completed. I could accept vaccines possibly having a smaller profit margin than other pharmaceuticals, but vaccines are also more widely and regularly disseminated and administered which still means substantial profit for the manufacturer. Sure the cost of something like Lipotor may be higher, but how many third-world countries are concerned about heart failure when the flu could kill them?

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