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Published: 16 years ago
 

US study blames 'unknown factor' on rise in autism


US study blames 'unknown factor' on rise in autism

(Filed: 20/10/2002)

An unknown external factor, rather than better diagnosis, appears to be behind a large rise in autism in the United States, writes Lorraine Fraser

Scientists in California have discovered that an almost three-fold increase in cases in the state is not the result of improved diagnosis or better recognition of cases, as had been suggested by health authorities.

The findings have been published as the controversy continues over whether Britain is seeing a similar rise in autism. A survey by the National Autistic Society earlier this year suggested that more than one in 80 primary school children may now have autism.

The apparent increase has been dismissed by epidemiologists and the Government as the consequence of better diagnosis.

A genetic predisposition in the children affected, triggered by something yet unknown in the environment, was the most likely explanation for the rise in California, said a British expert.

Dr Fiona Scott, of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The rise is such that you couldn't explain it just by genetics, there would have to be something else going on.

"Much likelier is there is some kind of genetic predisposition or susceptibility and there may be groups of children who are being triggered somehow to actually develop autism."

The results of the California study have been described as "sobering" by doctors there. Robert Byrd, a paediatrician, said: "Speculation about the increase in autism in California has led some to try to explain it away as a statistical issue: instead we found that autism is on the rise in the state and we don't know why."

The analysis was ordered by the Californian state legislature after pressure from parents who feared that the rise could be have been triggered by the introduction of the three-in-one measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), introduced in California in the late 1970s.

As in Britain, the American authorities have reassured parents that there is no need to be concerned about MMR.

Some doctors, including Dr Andrew Wakefield, formerly of the Royal Free Hospital in London, have linked the jab to bowel disease and autism.

 

6 September 2002: Scientists blame autism 'epidemic' on new diagnosis
28 June 2001: Study finds higher rate of autism
18 February 2001: One in 175 children has autism, latest study reveals
11 June 1999: Link between autism and MMR dismissed
21 January 2001: MMR doctor links 170 cases of autism to vaccine
 

 
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