Prenatal Vaccination as a Risk Factor for ASD
The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in the U.S. has exhibited a strong upward trend for several decades. In the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report for 2014, the estimated prevalence of autism in New Jersey—the state with the longest-running and most comprehensive surveillance—was 1 in 22 boys, up an alarming 32% since 2008. The CDC report concluded, “With prevalence of ASD reaching nearly 3% in some communities and representing an increase of 150% since 2000, ASD is an urgent public health concern that could benefit from enhanced strategies…to determine possible risk factors.”
In light of the urgent need to address modifiable risk factors, it makes sense to pay attention to some of the environmental exposures acknowledged to play a large role in autism causation, including exposures during pregnancy. Evidence suggests that prenatal environmental exposures “can exert causal influences on developmental disorders” by adversely affecting emerging brain connectivity and neural networks. A key model buttressing this branch of research, described as maternal immune activation (MIA), posits that activation of a pregnant woman’s immune system “can alter the growth of cells in the fetal brain.” The sex-specific neurochemical and behavioral abnormalities that result in offspring are the hallmarks of prevalent disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.
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