Monday, November 23, 2009

Alternative Autism Treatments and Mad Cow

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Twenty Questions

The Chicago Tribune has yet another article today attacking the use of alternative medicine in treating autism.  While the journalists do have some valid points, the general tone of the articles are troubling.  There are alternative autism treatments that do have value and can be effective and lumping all alternative treatments into the junk category is simply dishonest.

To illustrate what I am talking about, I would like to (unfairly) highlight one passage from one of today's articles -
Intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, consists of pooled antibodies separated from the plasma of multiple donors. Its serious side effects run from fevers and headaches to anaphylactic shock and meningitis. Blood is screened, but there is still a remote risk of contracting some diseases, including "mad cow" disease.
So, from this you would infer that IVIG is a dangerous procedure - one that could give you some horrible disease like "mad cow", right?


I cannot find a single documented case of anyone ever contracting "mad cow" from IVIG.  As a matter of fact, the blood supplies used for IVIG are very well screened to prevent this sort of thing from happening -
Being a human product made from blood donations by many people, IVIG can transmit disease. IVIG available in the United States is very carefully screened to be free of all known transmissible diseases, including HIV, hepatitis, malaria, syphilis, and many, many others. However, as with blood transfusions, there is always a risk that the product contains an infection that has not yet been recognized -- either because it is a previously unknown disease or because a donor's infection was so early that his or her blood gave no clues.
To put this in perspective, American blood products are the safest in the world. Very, very few people have every gotten an infection from IVIG. However, in the past 30 years, IVIG has been temporarily removed from the market three times -- each time to test it for a newly recognized disease (HIV, hepatitis C, "mad-cow disease") that had not been excluded before the IVIG had been released to the public. In fact, IVIG did not carry these diseases and no one actually got sick because of the having received IVIG. However, no one can guarantee that a new disease will not appear tomorrow that will not have been yet tested for.
Don't take my word for it, look into the safety of IVIG for yourself.  And if you are thinking of using a treatment like this on your child, you should most definitely research it yourself..

This is a perfect example of what is wrong with this sort of reporting.  Reasonable people can disagree about whether a particular treatment, such as IVIG, is appropriate, for treating autism.  But when you bring this sort of sensationalism into the picture - such as statements implying that IVIG is going to give your child mad cow - all you are left with is nonsense.


  1. As far as I know, there is no way to test blood for "mad cow disease". Isn't this why they exclude potential blood donors because they've travelled to Britain? If the blood were tested, where you may have travelled in the past shouldn't be an issue. (If you have a specific link that mentions a test, though, I'd love to see it!)

    I've never actually heard of using IVIG for autism. I've only heard of it being used for PANDAS, which has a bacterial component (as it's essentially OCD caused by strep bacteria antibodies).

  2. I think you are correct, there isn't a blood test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (Mad cow) - at least when it is in its dormant phase.

    I have to stand slightly corrected - I spent a little more time looking into the issue and I did manage to find one case were someone did mange to get CJD from a blood transfusion (

    So it is theoretically possible to get it from IVIG - just very, very, very unlikely and I still can't find any cases of it actually happening.

    I knew that some people use IVIG as a treatment for autism before I read this article but I haven't really looked in depth at rational for why it could be an effective treatment.

    I wouldn't put my children through it without a good reason and I am sure that the procedure does carry some risks. But at the same time, I don't think mad cow is very high on the list of risks to worry about.