Friday, April 4, 2008

Autism's simmering controversy - Louisville Courier

Area parents debate possible link to vaccinations

By Laura • March 31, 2008

As a baby, Austin Pope seemed to be developing normally -- even at an advanced pace, saying 75 words at 18 months.

But a month after getting five vaccines in one day, an unusually high number at the time, Austin began regressing, said his mother, Janet Pope of Crestwood.

One morning, he woke up with a stiff neck and just flopped in her arms. Ultimately, he stopped talking, stopped making eye contact and retreated into the world of autism.

Pope, whose son is now 16, tells a common story, one she compares to a recent case that spotlights a long-simmering controversy about a possible link between childhood vaccinations and autism that has been rejected by the mainstream medical establishment.

This month, federal officials conceded that 9-year-old Hannah Poling of Athens, Ga., should be awarded damages from a federal vaccine-injury fund because vaccines worsened a rare mitochondrial dysfunction, a problem involving cell metabolism. This, they said, led to autism-like symptoms.

"I'm hoping this will break the issue wide open," said Pope, 52, a former emergency room nurse and Air Force major.

Boyd Haley, a University of Kentucky chemistry and biochemistry professor who was an expert witness in support of the Poling case, argues that the vaccine preservative thimerosal, which contains mercury, can cause autism and mitochondrial dysfunction.

"This young girl probably didn't have a disorder until'' she was exposed to thimerosal, Haley said.

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