Monday, May 24, 2010

Anti-Vaccine Doc Gets The Boot

The British doctor who claimed to have found a link between vaccines and autism has been banned from practicing medicine.

England's General Medical Council struck Dr. Andrew Wakefield from the country's medical register after finding him guilty of "serious professional misconduct."  When Wakefield's research was published a dozen years ago, the AP reports, British parents abandoned the measles vaccine in droves, leading to a resurgence of the disease. Vaccination rates have never recovered and there are outbreaks of measles in the U.K. every year.

A while back, the AP reported that one in four U.S. parents believes vaccines cause autism.  American parents' concern about the safety of vaccines stems partly from Wakefield's 1998 study that was retracted by a British medical journal after Britain decided Wakefield acted dishonestly and unethically, and partly from continued hype by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and, long before McCarthy, NPR shock jock Leonard Lopate.

And yet, there is more actual evidence suggesting a link between cats and autism then there is between vaccines and autism.

Toxoplasma is a parasite, typically carried by cats. People who catch it may develop toxoplasmosis; which is usually a minor illness, although it can be serious when it is passed on by pregnant women to their unborn baby, and it can cause problems in people with impaired immune systems when it infects the brain. That's why doctors don't want pregnant women, kids and people with impaired immune systems emptying litter boxes.

The toxoplasma parasite has been linked to schizophrenia, and, as far back as 2006, biologists in the UK may have discovered why. It seems the parasite produces an enzyme that increases the production of the brain chemical dopamine, which appears to be involved in schizophrenia. And dopamine may also be involved in? Yes. Autism.

By making not only a statistical link between cats and a mental disorder, but also coming up with a physical explanation for the connection, these UK scientists have already linked cats to disorders like autism far more convincingly than anyone has been able to link autism and childhood vaccinations.  The link between cats and autism is far from being proved. The suggestion that there is a link may be poppycock. But, if parents of young kids aren't worried about their cats, they probably shouldn't be worried about vaccines.