Ed Yeates reportingWhat is triggering a staggering 20-fold increase in autism over the past two decades? That frustration has driven parents to the nation's capital this month, asking the government to look again at something they still believe is triggering the disease.
What science does know is 65 percent of autism is most likely linked to genes. What it doesn't know is what triggers make up the remaining 35 percent.
One theory questions, when children are born with a genetic predisposition for autism, could giving them childhood immunizations all at one time overload the immune system, which in turn could trigger or turn on the switch for the disease? Some big epidemiological studies, so far, say no!
There is no statistical link, but the parents of autistic children believe the studies haven't gone deep enough. Gary Freedman says, "I believe there is a link, so there are very few people out there, parent-wise, that don't believe this. There is a link."
Freedman's son Kurtis has autism. He supports the parents who went to Washington. Whether it's too many shots at one time or some ingredient in the vaccine itself, Freedman believes something besides genetics is triggering the disease. "I think down the line you'll see something. I think there will be a link. I think they'll find it," he said.
Despite studies showing no link, some families are backing away from immunizations. That causes concern among pediatricians who see families and kids every day who do not want to see a resurgence of measles. Small but significant outbreaks have shown up in New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, which is right on our doorstep.
Paul Wirkus, M.D., said, "We know measles kills children. We know that measles damages children. And I live in fear of a time that we have measles smoldering in the population."
Outbreaks are showing up globally as well, and not just in third-world countries. They've occurred in Israel, Ireland, Britain, Austria and Switzerland, which has seen 1,500 cases of measles in the past 18 months.
Dr. Wirkus says, "If we made the correction for size --Switzerland is about three and a half to four times as big as Utah-- we would be seeing between 400 and 500 cases of measles a year in the state of Utah."
Some parents wonder, what's the harm in staggering immunizations, just in case, so the immune system can have time to mature past the time when the alleged trigger is no longer a threat? Dr. Wirkus will do that, but parents must follow through, making appointments so the child doesn't miss shots. He worries more about families who are pulling away entirely from vaccinations. It's too easy, he says, to fall prey to speculation, or as he puts it, "to fall victim to evidence that really doesn't go beyond the level of personal testimonial."
But the testimonials, nevertheless, are circulating strong among a growing number of frustrated parents. In reported cases of autism, Utah ranks the third highest among 14 states.