Friday, February 4, 2011

Vaccines Don't Cause Autism

A mommy friend shared this blog post, "Vaccines Don't Cause Autism" with me. The blog is written by Maricella Piper-Terry. Piper-Terry is an antivax loon, so my initial response was "hooray, there is hope of educating these people", and then I read the post.

Let's look at her argument.

Okay. I give up.

Vaccines do not cause autism.

Well, that's refreshing. Someone that previously believed vaccines cause autism, finally admits that they don't. Oh wait, she was being sarcastic.

Autism is a behavioral diagnosis. In order to receive the diagnosis of "Autism" a child must exhibit a certain number of behaviors over a certain time frame. If he or she does not do so, the diagnosis of "autism" is not warranted.

There is no blood test for "autism."

"Autism" can't be confirmed or "ruled-out" by laboratory analysis. It's strictly a behavioral diagnosis.

OK, so far, so good. Then the logic train-wreck.

Therefore, anything that causes physiological damage cannot directly "cause" autism.

Just because we use the observation of behaviours to diagnose autism does not mean that those behaviours do not have an underlying pathology. Her conclusion does not follow from her stated premises.

And the wreck gets worse from there.

Ergo... vaccines cannot "cause" "autism."

Her underlying assumption is that vaccines cause physiological damage, which she has not established in her argument. She is also ignoring the scientific literature which states that vaccines don't cause autism because there is no correlation between vaccines and autism. In order for something to cause something else, the two things first have to occur at the same time. This was initially observed and reported by many parents. But temporal association is not enough and to thing that one thing causes another just because they are temporally correlated is another logical fallacy called "post hoc ergo propter hoc". So epidemiological studies were done to determine if there was any merit to this temporal correlation and the overwhelming verdict was no.

Vaccines cause encephalitis.

Vaccines cause seizures.

Vaccines cause immune system deficiencies.

Vaccines cause gastrointestinal problems.

These are pretty bold assertions, but are offered with no supporting evidence. Just because she says this is true, doesn't make them true. Can vaccines cause encephalitis? Yes, but at a much lower rate than the disease which they prevent. An example is measles. Measles causes encephalitis at 1:1000 cases. The vaccine causes encephalitis at 1:1 000 000 doses. Can vaccines cause seizures? Febrile seizures, yes, but not other types of seizures. Febrile seizures are associated with a rapid increase in temperature and have no lasting consequences. Vaccines cause immune system deficiencies. No. Vaccines work by boosting the immune system so that it can respond to an infection before the infection causes the disease. Vaccines cause gastrointestinal problems. No.

Next 3 paragraphs of her argument are irrelevant.

Gastrointestinal damage from vaccines causes diarrhea.

Gastrointestinal damage from vaccines causes nausea, reflux, vomiting, and the recently discovered "disease" now known as GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease).

Gastrointestinal damage from vaccines causes increased vulnerability to viruses and bacteria, which leads to increased administration of antibiotics, which leads to overgrowth of pathogenic yeast.

This is just crap (pun intended) she made up. Vaccines don't cause gastrointestinal damage.

Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to intestinal hyperpermeability ("leaky gut syndrome").

Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to constipation.

Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to food allergies.

Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to skin eruptions, "drunken, silly behavior," inattention and impulsivity, and cravings for bread, sugar, ice cream, milk, and carbohydrates.

More stuff she is making up. I bet she has a "cleanse" she sells to "cure" people of a "pathogenic yeast overgrowth". A quick Google search tells me she is a DAN! practitioner, so, ah, yup.

Technically, vaccines do not cause autism because techincally there is no such thing as autism.

Vaccines cause the underlying physical conditions that result in the pain, neurological damage, immune system disorders, gastrointestinal damage, and yeast overgrowth - all of which combine to produce the behavioral symptoms that result in the "autism" diagnosis.

Whoa, back up the train. Didn't she say in her first paragraphs that autism is a behavioral diagnosis that vaccines can't cause, but now autism doesn't exist and vaccines cause symptoms of this mysterious disease called "autism"? This argument is also totally bogus because her premises are wrong.

Gastrointestinal damage is the most obvious result of vaccine damage.

When a previously healthy child suddenly starts having multiple episodes of watery and extremely stinky diarrhea every day, and this happens shortly after receiving vaccinations, it is notable as a "vaccine injury."

Remember the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy? Marcella is very fond of it.

Why is Dr. Wakefield such a threat to the pharmaceutical industry?

Hint: Not because vaccines cause autism - they don't.

Vaccines cause gastrointestinal damage.

Gastrointestinal damage causes malabsorption of nutrients necessary for proper brain function.

Malabsorption of essential nutrients causes immune system disorders, seizures, encephalopathy, etc... and THAT's what leads to the ultimate diagnosis of "autism."

1. A guy that is guilty of fraud is hardly a threat to the pharmaceutical industry.
2. Vaccines don't cause gastrointestinal damage.

If Dr. Wakefield's obervations are correct, SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE will eventually draw the connection between vaccines and the domino-effect that leads to the "autism" diagnosis. From the perspective of the pharmaceutical industry, better to "nip it in the bud" now, which means discrediting Dr. Wakefield to the extent that no one will look further into the science.

Yes, if Wakefield's observations are correct, but, not only was Wakefield wrong, he committed fraud. And then we have the conspiracy theory of how big pharma controls science. The studies proving Wakefield wrong were not done by pharma. Twenty-six studies have looked into the science. Nobody has been able to reproduce Wakefield's work, because, he made it up.

Has this ploy worked?

Not for me. And not for many of the very intelligent parents I know.

Well, of course not for Marcella, because she would be out of job is she acknowledged that what she is selling is crap. Her statement that intelligent parents are falling for her con makes me very sad and angry. Hope this helps intelligent parents see through her misinformation.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Viruses are unique microbes in that they aren't really alive. They exist in two forms: a form outside the cell called the virion and a form inside the cell called a virus. A virus is the replicating form and only exists inside a cell. The virus hijacks the host cell machinary to make more virions. The virions are released from the cell to infect the next cell.

All viruses consists of protein and nucleic acid. Protein makes up the structure of the virus as well as aiding host cell hijacking. The nucleic acid is the genetic information of the cell. Like all cells, we humans have DNA as our genetic material. Since viruses are not cells, they are not bound by the DNA = genetic material law. Viral genomes can be made of RNA or DNA. The DNA or RNA can have a different structure than cells as well. In cells, DNA is double-stranded and RNA is single stranded. For viruses, the DNA or RNA can be double-stranded or single-stranded. Virologists use the nature of the nucleic acid to classify viruses.

A virus will use the protein component to enter host cells and hijack the host cell machinary using the nucleic acid as the directions to make more virions. The replication of the virus often has negative consequences on the host cell. The location of the host cell and the number of infected cells in turn has an affect on the host. The affect on the host is what produces the symptoms and consequences of a viral infectious disease. I'll illustrate this process with each virus we discuss.

Section 2 of Medical Microbiology describes virus structure, replication and pathogenesis in more detail.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What is Microbiology?

Day 1 of any microbiology course is a discussion of what is microbiology. The simple definition is "the study of microorganisms", but on further reflection, this definition really isn't all that simple. Two questions come from this definition: 1. what are microorganisms and how do we study them?

Microorganisms or microbes are organisms that can only be seen with a microscope. Thus, microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms. Well, sort of. Microbiologists study both cellular organisms like bacteria, algae, protozoa and fungi, but also acellular entities like viruses, prions and viroids. Since viruses are acellular and the cell is the basic unit of organisms, viruses are not organisms but they are microscopic.

The cellular organisms can be divided into two groups based on their structure: prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Bacteria are prokaryotes, while algae, protozoa and fungi are eukaryotes. Not all of the eukaryotes are microscopic. You have probably seen mushrooms growing in the woods or on your lawn for example. Microbiologists still claim fungi as part of their territory, however, since some fungal species are microscopic.

The Microbe World has a photo gallery of a few different types of microorganisms here, if you would like to put a picture to a name.

Since a microscope is necessary to see microorganisms, you are probably guessing that the microscope plays a big role in microbiology. For some microbiologists, yes, but for others no. In my graduate studies, the only time I saw I microscope was when I was teaching introductory microbiology courses. My research used molecular techniques to learn about how bacteria were resistant to antibiotics. There are numerous techniques used to study microbiology but the scientific method is the basis for all study. I will explain techniques as necessary in future blog posts.

An awesome introduction to microbiology is found in this video, "Initimate Strangers: The Unseen Life on Earth" Watch the first episode "The Microbial Universe" for more information on the scope of microbiology.

So as you can see, the definition of microbiology is just the beginning for a more complicated journey that I started 20 years ago and still feel like I have a lot to learn. I'm glad that you are sharing that journey with me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's Not a Course Unless There is a Textbook

If you are now having a flashback to your university days of standing in long lines and forking over huge sums of cash, relax. These textbooks are free online.

Todar's Online Textbook of Bacteriology -

Medical Microbiology, 4th Edition by Samuel Baron -

Microbiology and Immunology Online from University of South Carolina Medical School -

The Very First Post - Ever

I created this blog several months ago and I've been waiting for the perfect blog entry to start things off. After months and months of waiting, I realize there is no perfect start and to just get on with it already. So, I'm taking the leap into the blogging fad.

My goal with this blog is to be an educational resource for parents about how microorganisms affect their kids from pregnancy to adulthood. I was inspired by several mommy boards in which participants asked some tough questions and got horrible, if not dangerous, information in response. A post on a message board is just not enough space to explain microbiology for the uninitiated, so here I am. If only one person finds this blog useful, I would say it is a success. I also have a selfish reason to write this blog as a means to develop my communication skills for an audience outside of academia.

I plan to start with the basics and then start addressing the more complex questions. A free basic microbiology course online combined with discussion if you will. There is enough gray areas in microbiology to make for very interesting discussions once the vocabulary is mastered and generating this type of discussion is another one of my goals. I learn a lot from my students and is one of my favourite things about my job as a university instructor.

I always welcome constructive criticism and questions for topics for discussion. I have set the comments to moderation just because I plan on dealing with some controversial topics and I've been attacked online before. This doesn't mean I'll censor anyone that disagrees with me. It means that I'll censor inappropriate comments that do not serve the educational purpose of this blog. Disagree in a respectful way, and I guarantee that your post will be approved. No name-calling and be sure to support your position with evidence.

I should also note that I'm not a medical doctor and have no clinical experience. I cannot diagnose or prescribe and the content of this blog should not be construed to be personal medical advice. If you have a concern about your child's health, take him/her to a real doctor.