August 10, 2011
A FAMILY history of mercury poisoning has emerged as a significant risk factor for developing autism, researchers say.
A survey by Swinburne University in Melbourne of 522 Australian survivors of Pink disease – a form of mercury poisoning common in the early 20th century – found one in 25 of their 398 grandchildren aged six to 12 had an autism spectrum disorder.
The prevalence is six times higher than the one-in-160 diagnosed in the general population.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, found the grandchildren did not have elevated rates of other conditions such as epilepsy, Down syndrome or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The authors said they did not validate the autism diagnoses provided by the survivors but their study added to mounting evidence of a link between genetics, mercury sensitivity and autism-spectrum disorders.
They said the research also strongly suggested autism was caused by combined genetic and environmental factors.