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Autism-Lyme Correlation Debunked

Researchers find zero evidence for Lyme-induced autism.

By | April 30, 2013

Adult deer tickWIKIMEDIA, SCOTT BAUER, USDAThe hypothesized link between autism and Lyme disease loses ground with a new study that found no evidence of an infection in patients with the social development disorder. The results, published today (April 30) in the Journal of the American Medical Association, imply that antibiotics against the Lyme disease pathogen—a popular new strategy for autism—will not ameliorate most patients’ symptoms.

“The data don’t address whether a single case of autism was ever caused by Lyme disease, but it rules out the suggestion that it does so with any frequency,” said Armin Alaedini, an immunologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and an author on the study. “I think that for me, this is the end of looking into the link between autism and Lyme.”  

In recent years, some doctors have anecdotally noted that many of their autism patients have Lyme disease. Two small studies listed in a booklet from a 2007 meeting of the Lyme-Induced Autism Foundation, a Corona, California-based organization that advocates an “eclectic healing approach,” reported that 1 in 5 autistic patients had the tick-borne disease. Websites on the topic now put that number closer to 9 out of 10. These statistics, however, have not been peer-reviewed. Nonetheless, some doctors prescribe antibiotics to autistic children and say the therapy quells their symptoms.

To systematically assess the prevalence of Lyme disease among people with autism, Armin Alaedini, an immunologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and his colleagues analyzed blood samples from 120 children and teens: 70 participants had autism, and 50 served as healthy controls. Alaedini looked for antibodies against the bacterium underlying Lyme, Borrelia burgdorferi, and found that not a single participant tested positive for the infection.

“This means that you wouldn’t see 20 percent of children with autism getting their disease from Lyme,” Alaedini said. He entered into the study objectively, he said, wanting to explore a correlation that had gained traction among doctors and the public. “Autism has become a hot topic, and a lot of people are publishing findings that are bogus but still alarm parents.”

John Halperin, a neurologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, called the study “well-powered to test the hypothesis” that a significant number of autism cases are attributable to Lyme disease. Halperin approves of the manner in which the authors searched the participants’ blood for Lyme disease—a two-tier test involving an ELISA test to detect antibodies against B. burgdorferi bacteria, and a Western Blot test to confirm them. “Several studies show that the test’s sensitivity is 99 percent and the specificity is close behind that, which is as good as any antibody test out there,” Halperin said. But the test has been a point of controversy for the outspoken advocates of chronic Lyme disease, in which a range of symptoms, such as fatigue and pain, persist for years after the infection is no longer detected—a condition largely dismissed by many scientists. Chronic Lyme supporters argue that the that the two-part test, validated by the American Lyme Disease Foundation and the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), frequently misses a current or former infection.

Indeed, due to a mistrust of the CDC-recommended test, some proponents of Lyme-induced autism are not convinced by this study. “I’m glad to see that someone has decided to pay attention to this, but the study was designed to fail,” said Robert Bransfield, a psychiatrist in Red Bank, New Jersey, who writes about the connection between autism and Lyme disease. Bransfield points to studies showing that the test is insensitive. But Alaedini counters that the insensitivity occurs only in the first 1 or 2 weeks after a tick-bite, before a person has generated sufficient antibodies against the pathogen. This short-term problem would not be an issue in a study assessing long-term problems associated with autism, he said.

In addition to his doubts about the test Alaedini used, Bransfield speculated that Lyme disease might have caused autism while the participants were in the womb or in their first 2 years of life. The antibodies lingering from the causative infection may have waned by the time blood samples were collected. “If someone is a teen, even if they acquired autism from Lyme disease, you won’t see an active infection,” he said.

But Halperin said such a scenario is unlikely. “There is no scientific evidence to support those conjectures,” he said, calling them “fictional arguments that can’t be tested by science.” So, why do some children with autism appear improve after a bout of antibiotics? Like so many aspects of autism, that question remains open from a scientific perspective.

M. Ajamian et al., “Serologic markers of Lyme disease in children with autism,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 309: 1771-72, 2013.

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Avatar of: Lymeoneofakind

Lymeoneofakind

Posts: 1

May 1, 2013

Not "debunked" per se...would like to know the methods of testing for this study as it is a well-known fact that the current "gold standard" of testing is only 4% - 65% accurate and misses a lot of the true cases of Lyme. Also - the most specific bands used to identify Borrelia are excluded from this gold standard for the developed and developing PATENT(S) for vaccinations!

Avatar of: LD911

LD911

Posts: 1

May 1, 2013

It is unfortunate that so much time and effort went into a study that proved the likely outcome, but sometimes that is how such thorough investigations must operate. Also from an epidemiologic viewpoint, there isn't a shred of evidence of an association of autism with Lyme disease. So-called similarly proposed correlations of autism with adverse events to childhood vaccines was also recently debunked. It is unfortunate, however, that the link to a specific cause to autism, apart from some possible unrecognized genetic mutation, has yet to be made.

Avatar of: Ms Reiser

Ms Reiser

Posts: 1

May 1, 2013

Having been a long-time advocate for Lyme Disease victims, I am used to reading the usual spring and fall debunking of "myths" attatched to this disease. This particular article "debunking the myth of autism to Lyme" goes like all the rest: The end result is that the report itself itself becomes a myth.

I might believe it if not for the fact that I have witnessed too many people misdiagnosed with many conditions,suffering for years, only to find that they have Lyme and a co-infection or two. So, from a personal standpoint, I say to those who have autism in their families, get the family mamber tested at a good lab that specializes in tick-borne diseases. A little searching for the 100% right diagnosis will more than likely pay off.

This report is especially potentially harmful to children who may just have a chance of leading a normal life. Kids seem to respond well to treatment for Lyme, but then again, treating Lyme is not much of a money-maker for the powers that drive the medical community as autism.

Either way, good luck and be healthy.

Avatar of: Alan L Silverman

Alan L Silverman

Posts: 3

May 2, 2013

Is there a  statistically valid link between giving antibiotics to autistic individuals and relief from the problem? That's a study I would be interested in.  If there is, then who cares if that implies a link between lyme and autism?

Avatar of: Lymedoc2

Lymedoc2

Posts: 1

May 5, 2013

It is not the lab test that is at fault in this particular instance. It is the company's (IGenex) interpretation of the test in which they claim that only 3 bands -- instead of the 5 of 10 required by the CDC-- are sufficient for a positive result. That's the reason so many of these children with autism were falsely diagnosed as having Lyme disease.

Any one who knows anything about laboratory diagnosis knows that laboratory tests are likely to be negative when conducted during the first 3-4 weeks after infection; there is simply not enough antibody present in the blood to be detected at such an early interval. That is the case for all bacterial infections, not just Lyme disease. Furthermore, when tests (an IgG Western blot) are performed at 5 weeks or more after infection (Lyme disease)  practiacally ALL patients are seropositive; the test is almost 100% sensitive and specific at that time. That gives plenty of time to be treated and cured with a short course of oral antibiotics.

So, let's stop spreading all of this false information about the diagnosis of Lyme disease. If someone is seronegative and has general symptoms associated with Lyme diseaase, other causes for their symptoms should be considered. It makes no sense to treat for an infection that does not exist.

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