Health Buzz: MMR Vaccine and Autism, and Other Health News

Plastic chemical BPA, teens and sex, and where the presidential candidates stand on abortion.

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Study Finds No Link Between MMR Vaccine and Autism

The childhood measles-mumps-rubella vaccine does not raise the risk of developing autism, according to a new study. Researchers analyzed tissue biopsies taken from the bowels of kids with autism and gastrointestinal problems and compared them with age-matched children in a control group who had no developmental delays but were undergoing bowel biopsies because of gastrointestinal problems. The study, published online today in the journal PLoS One, investigated the theory that in children who receive the MMR vaccine, measles virus RNA could grow in the intestinal tract and cause inflammation, making the bowel more permeable and potentially causing the virus to travel to the central nervous system—where it might lead to the development of autism. But only one child out of 25 kids with autism and one of the 13 children in the control group showed slight levels of measles RNA.

Still, some parents of autistic children are not convinced. "This study addresses one hypothesis. This study, by itself, does not exonerate the role of all vaccines," said Rick Rollens, the father of an autistic son and one of the founding members of the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of CaliforniaDavis. "There are many biological mechanisms where environmental factors could present in the development of autism."

Previously, U.S. News's Bernadine Healy reported on the autism-vaccine link. In May, Nancy Shute explained why a study linking autism and schizophrenia—while scary on its face—was actually good news. Earlier, Shute reported on evidence dismissing the link between vaccines and autism.

Report: BPA Poses 'Some Concern'

A new report from the federal government's National Toxicology Program finds that exposure to bisphenol A, or BPA, poses "some concern" for potential behavioral effects and possible impact on development of the brain and prostate gland in infants, fetuses, and children. BPA is a chemical used in many consumer products like baby bottles, certain reusable water bottles, and even containers for canned foods. The report is based on a review of scientific literature and also considers public and professional comment on the issue. What consumers should do in response to the report's findings is not clear. "Unfortunately, it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information," Michael Shelby, director of the NTP's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, said in a statement. "More research is clearly needed to understand exactly how these findings relate to human health and development, but at this point we can't dismiss the possibility that the effects we're seeing in animals may occur in humans. If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA."

A separate study found that BPA exposure may cause health problems in monkeys. U.S. News offers tips on how to avoid contact with BPA and provides a list of resources for locating BPA-free products. And Adam Voiland describes why products containing phthalates are also a concern and gives advice for how to avoid exposure to those chemicals.

Teens and Sex

The Guttmacher Institute reported recently that more than 75 percent of teens have had sex by the time they are 19 years old. And sophisticated sex at that: Some 25 percent of virgins over 15 have had oral sex; of those who've had intercourse, almost all have also engaged in oral sex and 11 percent in anal sex, Bernadine Healy reports. Of kids under 15, about 14 percent have had sexual intercourse, and a quarter of teenagers have had at least one sexually transmitted disease. In fact, young people account for half of the 19 million new STD cases each year. Safe-sex slip-ups occur even if kids know the drill, and teens are simply clueless about condom use during nonvaginal sex.

U.S. News recently described the story of a young woman who was infected with HIV at age 19.

Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Abortion