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Congenital Rubella Syndrome: a Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning?

Posted Sep 13 2010 3:25pm

I considered titling this: A peak into the upcoming book “Age of Autism?” as this seems to show us the sorts of arguments that will be made in that book.

One of the known environmental causes of autism is Congenital Rubella Syndrome , or CRS. This was discussed as part of a presentation to the IACC, What Causes Autism? The Case for an Environmental Contribution, by Dr. Philip Landrigan . ( video is here, starting at about minute 79 . Sorry it doesn’t embed).

In the question/answer session for that presentation on at about 114 minutes into the IACC meeting) Lyn Redwood of SafeMinds brought up a new argument—that CRS induced autism may be due to mercury. It turns out that in the 1950’s gamma globulin therapy was started as a means of preventing CRS. Gamma Globulin was injected into pregnant mothers who to prevent or reduce the rubella infections. This exposed the mother and fetus to mercury and should be considered the cause of the autism according to Ms. Redwood.

I must admit that when I heard this question I thought: “Well, here is one of the talking points we will hear from the upcoming book, ‘Age of Autism’, by Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted”. Their book appears to be an attempt to tie all of autism (and many other conditions) to mercury, including, I suspect now, CRS. There are other loose ends they will undoubtedly bring up and tie into the mercury hypothesis (like the existence of autistics who were born before thimerosal was invented. That will be interesting to read).

There is at least one big reason why CRS was possibly not linked to autism before Stella Chase’s work in the 1970’s. Congenital Rubella Syndrome causes major disability. Severe to profound mental retardation. There are big spikes in the California Department of Developmental Services data for severe and profound mental retardation corresponding to the CRS outbreaks of the 1960s. Why bring this up? Because for the first two decades after Kanner’s original paper, many people considered intellectual disability (mental retardation) and autism to be completely separate.

From Infantile autism reviewed: a decade of research , a review article written in 1981:

One of the chief problems has been how to handle the questions of mental retardation and organic brain disease, issues especially troublesome with regard to infantile autism. When Kanner (1943) first described the diagnostic features, he also remarked that the condition bore no resemblance to any known neurological condition and implied that autistic children had a basically normal intelligence. For over two decades afterwards, diagnosticians generally believed that the presence of mental retardation or neurologic signs ruled out the diagnosis of infantile autism in the Kannerian sense, even if the child met all behavioral criteria (Eisenberg 1966). Thus diagnosis was frequently one dimensional; a child was labeled as afflicted with either infantile autism or mental retardation, not both.

Or, to put it another way, what many people today call “Kanner’s Autism”, with intellectual disability and/or apraxia, is not what Kanner and most of the people of his time thought of as autism.

But, data, as they say, there’s a funny thing about evidence. Real data is worth more than all these blogger discussions. The paper out today from Pediatrics included immune globulins in their analysis and showed that mercury exposure prenatally and in infancy and found that these exposures did not increase the risk of autism.

Then again, the funny thing about evidence is that it is repeatable. Two previous papers showed no link between immune globulins and autism:


Lack of association between Rh status, Rh immune globulin in pregnancy and autism.

So, if I am correct and “Age of Autism” the book claims immune globulins are a cause of autism, what can we say? We can say that the funny thing about evidence is that some people are not swayed by it. Some people will continue to push the mercury hypothesis forever.

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