Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Render unto Batman

In 1935, the mayor of Rome, Texas, cabled the League of Nations to offer assurances that his town, at least, was not complicit in Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. Now the mayor of Batman, Turkey, seeks damages from the producers of The Dark Knight.

That the undercurrents of history can sometimes be glimpsed in small moments is evident from Nancy Gibbs's comments in Time on Presidential transitions:

Outgoing President James Buchanan advised Abe Lincoln that water from the right-hand well was better than from the left, and he shared the secrets of the pantry. During John F. Kennedy's visit the day before his Inauguration, Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated the panic button, instantly summoning an evacuation helicopter to the White House lawn. Fatefully, Lyndon Johnson gave Richard Nixon a tour of the hidden tape recorders.

Another hidden agent is AdSense, a program that invites bloggers to add its HTML code to their templates, activating a script that is supposed to place ads here that are keyed to what the blogger writes about. I've pasted in their code and can't see any difference. I wondered what kind of ads these comments might evoke; whether, upon coming on a reference to Caesar, AdSense might place an ad for Little Caesar's Pizza. The ads were supposed to appear within a few minutes, and it's been several hours now; perhaps they're meant to be like faith, "the evidence of things not seen."

Speaking of belief in spite of the facts, I was startled to hear an otherwise very intelligent friend of mine assert, a couple of years ago, that autism can be caused by childhood vaccinations. Autism is not caused by the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, any more than cancer is caused by power lines or AIDS by spirits of the dead. Frightened parents of children with autistic spectrum disorder are being misled by poorly done science, and other parents may risk exposing their children to diseases that had nearly been eradicated in the United States.

The incidence of autism is increasing--it is diagnosed in as many as 166 children per 10,000, up from 4 in 10,000 just 45 years ago. No precise cause has been identified, though it probably results from some combination of genetic and environmental factors. What it does not come from is the MMR vaccine. As noted by the Centers for Disease Control:

Groups of experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that MMR vaccine is not responsible for recent increases in the number of children with autism. In 2004, a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that there is no association between autism and MMR vaccine, or vaccines that contain thimerosal as a preservative.

The absence of measles and other contagious diseases from our daily lives has made many forget the severity of the threat. What could happen if a sufficiently large number of parents decided to skip MMR vaccination? The CDC notes:

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and is frequently imported into the U.S. In the period 1997-2000, most cases were associated with international visitors or U.S. residents who were exposed to the measles virus while traveling abroad. More than 90 percent of people who are not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the virus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 900,000 measles-related deaths occurred among persons in developing countries in 1999. In populations that are not immune to measles, measles spreads rapidly. If vaccinations were stopped, each year about 2.7 million measles deaths worldwide could be expected.

In the U.S., widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99 percent reduction in measles compared with the pre-vaccine era. If we stopped immunization, measles would increase to pre-vaccine levels.

Listen to this interview on autism, genetics, and vaccination with Dr. Larry Reiter of the Department of Neurology at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences, Memphis, conducted by Nicole Erwin of WKNO FM.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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