If you're like me, there are a lot of times when it feels like getting through the evening news is an almost superhuman challenge. All the supposed breakthroughs that will prevent and treat autism, all the happy sappy stories about high functioning kids and their touching achievements, all the pharma ads in between that show why this kind of pabulum dominates the airwaves, is enough to make you want to throw your remote or take even more dire action, like Elvis and his famous television shootout.
Case in point: On Veterans Day, Diane Sawyer reported on the study that showed a potential link between flu during pregnancy and having a child with autism. "Back here at home a new headline discussed around kitchen table tonight," Diane began. "We know that one in 88 children are diagnosed with this disorder, and this new study suggests a bout of flu during pregnancy can increase a child's risk."
Diane turned to chief medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, formerly the acting director of the CDC, to get some perspective. "So many pregnant couples are going to be in fear over this," Diane said. But not to worry: Besser said that among mothers who remembered having the flu during pregnancy, the risk of autism doubled. The screen flashed a graphic that read, "Flu during pregnancy increases autism risk from 1% to 2%." Now get this:
"So, still very very small," Besser said, referring to a risk of 2% of having an autistic child.
He also noted the study was not enough to prove a connection – fair enough. Diane then asked about other risk factors we've heard about. Besser obliged with the usual tired list: "We have some clues. Genetic factors are very important. Parents' age matters. As fathers in particular get older and hit 40, the risk goes up." Then there was time between pregnancies.
"Lots of clues. No hard answers." Diane, lobbing the ball back one more time, said she knew Besser wanted to assure parents about what she called ""the 2% versus 98%." "That's right. That's a very small number. You know women who get the flu during pregnancy don't need to worry about this. They should get a flu shot while pregnant, though, because they're at great risk for the flu."
Oh for heaven sakes. The chief medical editor of one of the leading networks has just said that the risk of autism rising by one percentage point – from 1 out of 100 to 2 out of 100 live births here, in these United States – is a small number and nothing to worry about. That's because 98% – the vast majority – will not be born with autism.
This is just nuts. That kind of autism risk ought to strike fear in every single family in America. And it does. Think about it in terms of another dread disorder – let's say polio, just for example. If parents thought that one out of every 100 children born in United States would have paralytic polio, there would be mass hysteria, and there should be -- and there was. The actual rate of polio complications at the height of the epidemics in the 1950s was more like one in 3000, and that was more than enough to galvanize the entire medical and scientific research establishment to solve that problem.
But when it comes to autism, an equally disabling condition for so many, a rate 30 (or even 60) times that of polio does nothing to galvanize Dr. Besser.
So what's going on here? Well, part of it is the same indolent, incompetent, uncomprehending response to the autism epidemic that we have seen so often. Our own Anne Dachel has documented this so many times. But I wonder if there is something else: Dr. Besser is an old CDC hand, and probably doesn't take flu very seriously in his heart of hearts. He would know as well as anyone the degree to which the CDC has fudged and fumbled the figures to make flu sound like a killer, when it is clearly not for most Americans, including children.
He would know how the various bird flu epidemics have been turned into excuses to keep mercury in vaccines and spread the false belief that the vaccines themselves are really very effective at all. So my guess is he can't really imagine that flu alone really doubles the risk for autism. Neither can I. What we may be -- may be -- looking at is an association – and the real connection could be the suggestion it offers of immunocompromise or other problems in the mother, if the study has any significance at all.
But the empty hypocrisies roll on and on. A subsequent story on the same ABC newscast brought this into high relief for me. There was a report about a number of soldiers who had been killed at an outpost in Afghanistan, a post subsequently determined to have served no useful purpose, and dangerously sited to begin with. Correspondent Jake Tapper had written a book about it, and after the taped segment, he talked with Diane.
Tapper said it wasn't until he went to Afghanistan, and began talking with troops and their families, sometimes including "grieving widows" and children with no fathers, that he realized how much American soldiers, "these people, 1%, 2% of the population, give."
That figure is starting to sound familiar! But didn't we just find out that 1% to 2% of the population is a small and insignificant group, and that such a percentage at risk is nothing for parents to worry about?
It's a mad mad mad mad world. Pray for my television.
Speaking of percentages, the Times on Friday carried a front-page story about Alzheimer's disease, and began with a recently diagnosed woman "confronting a problem of the new era of Alzheimer's research: the ability to detect the disease has leapt far ahead of treatments. There are none that can stop or even significantly slow the inexorable progression to dementia and death." And the fact is, roughly half of all Americans who live to 85 will have Alzheimer's.
Those of us who believe that Alzheimer's has increased, and does have toxic connections, most likely to mercury in flu shots and fillings, to aluminum, and to who knows what else, realize what a similar story this is to autism. There's just not so much happy talk, minimization, and denial.
Also From the Editor this week:
13 deaths in four years from energy drink being investigated by FDA. Applying the same level of concern to vaccines like Gardasil? Not so much. -d.o.- Nice to see Rep. Carolyn Maloney standing right next to Nancy Pelosi today as Pelosi re-upped as Minority Leader. Let's hope we can make some progress next session. This month's hearings are a start! --d.o- If having flu while pregnant can increase the risk of autism, shouldn't the great flu pandemic after WWI have caused a lot of autism? Instead, it didn't cause any. What did? The rise of ethyl mercury compounds in the 1930s pesticides and, oh yes, vaccinations. -d.o- Support our troops by questioning why they are human pincushions for every cockamamie medical intervention the feds come up with. Anthrax, Lariam, antidepressants, stay-awake drugs, you name it ...
Dan Olmsted is Editor of AgeOfAutism.com