Ancestry of pink disease (infantile acrodynia) identified as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders

30 Jul

One of the arguments for the mercury-causes-autism hypothesis is that there are subgroups more susceptible to harm from mercury exposures. It is argued that pink disease gives an example for such a susceptibility group.

Pink disease was a reaction to a teething powder which contained mercury. About 1 in 500 children exposed to the powder reacted with pink disease. Two points are important to keep in mind. First, the levels of mercury exposure from the powder were far greater than from vaccines. Second, the exposures were not the same for all children. Some parents would use more teething powder at a time. Some might use it for longer times. This makes it impossible to claim a susceptibility group as the children who showed signs of pink disease could very likely be the ones who had higher levels of mercury exposure.

In a paper just released, a team of researchers interviewed people who had a history of pink disease. Since that teething powder has been gone for decades, these individuals are now old enough to be grandparents.

This is, at best, a very strange paper. Consider these questions:

1) why aren’t they reporting a high autism prevalence in the people who had very high mercury exposures and who showed signs of pink disease? If there is a genetic susceptibility, why isn’t it seen in those with the greatest exposures?

2) why isn’t there a report of high autism prevalence in the children, just the grandchildren? My guess is that the response from some will be that the grandchildren received higher doses of mercury in vaccines than did their parents. Which again would beg the question of where is the high rate of autism in those exposed to the teething powders, especially those who developed pink disease.

The conclusions of this paper have some major logical hurdles to overcome, to say the least. And this is even before the methods are addressed. For example, this all hinges on reports by the grandparents. Not on an actual prevalence measure of the decendents.

If is already well established that the rise in mercury exposures from childhood vaccines was not the cause of the rise in autism prevalence estimates. It has always been clear that autism is not similar to mercury poisoning symptoms. The mercury hypothesis has been harmful, both to public health and the autism communities The time for papers which pose intriguing questions on this subject has past. Studies with weak methods and poor logic are irresponsible in today’s world.

Here is the pubmed link:
Ancestry of pink disease (infantile acrodynia) identified as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders.

Here is the abstract:

Pink disease (infantile acrodynia) was especially prevalent in the first half of the 20th century. Primarily attributed to exposure to mercury (Hg) commonly found in teething powders, the condition was developed by approximately 1 in 500 exposed children. The differential risk factor was identified as an idiosyncratic sensitivity to Hg. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have also been postulated to be produced by Hg. Analogous to the pink disease experience, Hg exposure is widespread yet only a fraction of exposed children develop an ASD, suggesting sensitivity to Hg may also be present in children with an ASD. The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that individuals with a known hypersensitivity to Hg (pink disease survivors) may be more likely to have descendants with an ASD. Five hundred and twenty-two participants who had previously been diagnosed with pink disease completed a survey on the health outcomes of their descendants. The prevalence rates of ASD and a variety of other clinical conditions diagnosed in childhood (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, Fragile X syndrome, and Down syndrome) were compared to well-established general population prevalence rates. The results showed the prevalence rate of ASD among the grandchildren of pink disease survivors (1 in 22) to be significantly higher than the comparable general population prevalence rate (1 in 160). The results support the hypothesis that Hg sensitivity may be a heritable/genetic risk factor for ASD.

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75 Responses to “Ancestry of pink disease (infantile acrodynia) identified as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders”

  1. Aaron August 3, 2011 at 20:59 #

    daedalus2u: “Where are the children with pink disease from vaccines? There aren’t any. The dose to get pink disease is many times larger than what anyone received from vaccines.”

    Actually, there are several reports of children with acrodynia developing the disease after receiving vaccines containing thimerosal. See Warkany and Hubbard (1951, 1953) for review — they report their own and those of others.

    Yes, on average teething powders contained more mercury. 40 to 64 milligrams of mercury is pretty high and certainly wasn’t the average amount of mercury in teething powders. There were also powders with higher levels, the dosing was pretty arbitrary and never standardized. This is also the entire powder, not an individual dose. 40mg would be administered over a month or several months.

    Lastly, this is 40,000 micrograms. However, thimerosal is an organomercurial which is far more toxic than the inorganic calomel found in teething powders (calomel). Thimerosal is ~100 times more toxic than calomel. So 187.5 micrograms of thimerosal during the 1990s would equal the potency of 18,750 micrograms of calomel.

    • Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 21:16 #

      “However, thimerosal is an organomercurial which is far more toxic than the inorganic calomel found in teething powders (calomel). ”

      Already discussed. In detail. With quantitative comparisons. Above.

      I’ll pose the same question to you: which is more toxic, a dose of one substance which will kill a mouse, or a dose of another substance which will not?

      “Thimerosal is ~100 times more toxic than calomel. So 187.5 micrograms of thimerosal during the 1990s would equal the potency of 18,750 micrograms of calomel.”

      I assume that you haven’t actually read the discussion above. How do you come to the “100 time” figure? The LD50 levels are known and quoted above. For equal doses, calomel is not 100x more toxic than thimerosal.

      But, once again, I must bring this back on topic. “Toxic” is not the same thing as “causes autism”. Thimerosal does not increase the risk of autism. But, since that has been shown repeatedly in the published literature, all that is left is the “it’s toxic” argument.

    • Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 21:39 #

      “There were also powders with higher levels, the dosing was pretty arbitrary and never standardized. This is also the entire powder, not an individual dose. 40mg would be administered over a month or several months.”

      This is incorrect as well.

      You can look up one composition of teething powder in “Non-secret formulas By Thomas Michael Griffiths”. You can search it on Google Books. Formula 896 is a teething powder:

      Calomel 13 drams, 1 scruple
      White Sugar: 26 drams, 2 scruple
      Opium: 2 scruples

      Dose: 3 to 6 grains.

      For reference
      1 scruple = 1/3 dram
      1 dram = 1/8 a troy ounce.

      So, that’s each dose. Each time the teething powder was given. 3-6 grains. Of which, about 1/3 the weight was Calomel. So, 1-2 grains of Calomel were recommended.

      1 grain is 65,000 miligrams. So, the calomel dose (recommended) was between 65,000 and 130,000 miligramsmicrograms. And that’s for people who can estimate a grain accurately.

      Kids were given high doses of mercury in teething powders. Daily. Far more than in the entire vaccine schedule. And, for some reason, there isn’t a high prevalence of autism for those kids.

      (note, edited to correct micrograms instead of milligrams)

  2. Jim Thompson August 3, 2011 at 21:21 #

    Aaron:

    Regarding sensitive subsets, go a bit further and consider the Lethal Dose that kills half of the exposed animals. The LD 50 does not mean that a lethal dose is safe for the species of animals because half of them survived. What is the LD 0.0001
    one in a million? No one knows. What is the odds of autism for one in a million kids exposed in utero or after birth to thimerosal. No one knows.

    Also there is little discussion here about the fact that dose and the time of the exposure are both important in toxicity. Any thoughts?

  3. Jim Thompson August 3, 2011 at 21:27 #

    Sullivan:

    2004, Dr. Verstraeten. See PEDIATRICS Vol. 113 No. 4 April 2004, pp. 932 at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/113/4/

    The 2000 results were not denied.

  4. Jim Thompson August 3, 2011 at 21:31 #

    correction

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/113/4/932.full

    The 2000 results were not denied.

    • Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 22:39 #

      Jim Thompson,

      “The 2000 results were not denied.”

      This strikes me as a disingenuous at best. First, “not denied”. Why would he reference unpublished results? More to the point, I am very sure you are aware of the letter to the editor that Thomas Verstraeten wrote: Thimerosal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and GlaxoSmithKline. In that comment, he notes that the findings of the first phase of the study (which he discussed in 2000 and you refference) were not replicated in the second phase. He doesn’t deny that the first phase existed nor does he deny that the first phase indicated a positive result. He does, however, make it very clear that the positive results of the first phase were not replicated in the second phase. He performed additional work (phase 2) because he “felt that the first-phase results were too prone to potential biases to be the basis for important public health decisions.”

  5. Jim Thompson August 3, 2011 at 21:47 #

    Re: Sullivan and “high doses”

    Consider that there are 91 million flu doses with 25 micrograms of mercury or 50 micrograms of thimerosal. See http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaxsupply.htm

    Now that is enough, based on the LD50 for a child, as given on the thimerosal msds, to kill half of a set of 7583 children.

    Who has determined that further dilution into 91 million humans is safe? Answer: NO ONE.

    • Sullivan August 3, 2011 at 22:53 #

      Consider that there are 91 million flu doses with 25 micrograms of mercury or 50 micrograms of thimerosal. See http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaxsupply.htm

      Now that is enough, based on the LD50 for a child, as given on the thimerosal msds, to kill half of a set of 7583 children.

      Who has determined that further dilution into 91 million humans is safe? Answer: NO ONE.

      With this ridiculous argument, this thread is obviously done.

      Yes, if someone injected a child (or any living being) with 91 million doses of vaccine, the child would die. Do you really think this means anything?

      Can humans survive a 25 microgram exposure to mercury? Of course. We are exposed to mercury all the time.

      (edit to add: Mr. Thompson, you clearly don’t understand what an LD50 means. At the LD50 dose, 1/2 of the subjects would die. The statement “to kill half of a set of 7583 children” isn’t logical. At a the LD50 dose, 1/2 of 7583 subjects would die. Also, 1/2 of 10 subjects…also 1/2 of 10,000,000,000 subjects. If you increase the dose, a greater percentage would die, not 1/2 of a larger number.)

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