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Published On: Wed, May 1st, 2013

Study: Evidence of Lyme disease-Autism link lacking

The proposed link between the bacterial tick borne disease, Lyme disease and autism is lacking in evidence, according to researchers at Columbia University.

''black-legged ticks'', Ixodes scapularis Image/CDC

”black-legged ticks”, Ixodes scapularis
Image/CDC

Despite a prevalence of Lyme disease as high as 20 percent (or even higher) reported in some children with autism, the new research found no cases of Lyme disease in children when CDC recommended testing was done.

Results of the study appear in the May 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the study, Columbia University Medical Center researcher Mary Ajamian, and colleagues performed Lyme disease serological testing of serum samples from 120 children aged 2–18 years, including 70 with autism (from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and the Weill Cornell Autism Research Program) and 50 siblings and unrelated healthy controls without autism.

After blood testing using ELISA technology, one child with autism tested positive and four tested as borderline. In the non-autistic children, four tested positive and one was borderline.

After a more specific test. the Western Blot, was performed, none of the children tested positive for Lyme disease.

The data do not address whether Lyme disease may cause autism-like behavioral deficits in some cases,” said the authors, “However, the study’s sample size is large enough to effectively rule out the suggested high rates of Lyme disease among affected children.”

Despite all the attention the proposed link between Lyme and autism has received, the Columbia researchers say, “Controlled studies to assess evidence of infection with the causative agent of Lyme disease in patients with autism are lacking.”

Lyme disease is tick borne, bacterial infection that is relatively common in the United States. Ixodes scapularis is the vector for Lyme disease in the Northeast. In addition it is also the vector for human granulocytic anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Because of this, co-infections with multiple diseases are seen.

First discovered in 1975 in a town in Connecticut where it derives its name, lyme disease is caused by the spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb).

The disease is characterized by a distinctive skin lesion known as erythema migrans (EM) and possibly systemic symptoms including neurological, rheumatologic and cardiac involvement over time (months to years). Some reports say that the optic nerve may also be affected.

The EM which is the first manifestation in the majority of cases is a red papule that expands slowly frequently showing a clear center (bull’s eye). They may be seen singly or in multiples.

With or without EM, other early symptoms may include malaise, fatigue, fever, headache and stiff neck. Body aches and migratory joint painmay also be seen.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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  1. ProudMary says:

    If it is research that declines that Lyme is a problem, Wormser’s name is on it! Amazing. 120 is a large study sample? Since when? CDC testing is insufficient to diagnose Lyme. That is the beginning, middle and end of it.

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