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No link found between MMR vaccine and autism

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new report finds no link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), frequently referred to as autism.

The update, "Immunization Safety Review: Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism," was prepared by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Safety Review Committee. The panel concluded that there was no epidemiological evidence of a relationship at the population level between the MMR vaccine and ASD, but added that it does not exclude the possibility that the MMR vaccine could contribute to autism in a small number of children.

"The responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of the MMR vaccine is high, even if the adverse outcome is rare," the committee noted.

The MMR vaccine -- actually three vaccines in a single shot -- has been very successful in eliminating measles, mumps and rubella in the United States. However, the disease remains a serious threat elsewhere in the world where children are not vaccinated. According to the report, more than one million children died from measles last year worldwide.

Autism is an incurable behavioral disorder. It is characterized by impairment in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior. Patients vary in the severity of their symptoms and cognitive impairment. In most cases autism appears to have an early onset, with symptoms appearing at approximately age 2.

In a small number of cases, normal development is followed by a sudden loss of developmental milestones, usually in the second year, which has led to speculation that the MMR vaccination preceded the onset of the disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of U.S. children affected by autism is not currently known, but studies in Europe and Asia indicate as many as 2 in 1,000 children may be affected by autism.

The report was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC and other organizations within the Department of Health and Human Services. The American Academy of Pediatrics will issue its own report on MMR and autism in the May issue of "Pediatrics."

The U.S. House Committee on Government Reform has been investigating the rise in autism rates and is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on its findings.



RELATED STORIES:
Doctors say vaccine fears are unfounded
October 22, 1999
U.S. officials investigate 'cluster' of autism in New Jersey town
February 1, 1999
Autistics offer unique computing skills
June 3, 1998

RELATED SITES:
The Autism Society of America
National Alliance for Autism Research
CDC - Developmental Disabilities
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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