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Hannah Poling is a girl with mitochondrial enzyme deficit caused encephalopathy from Athens, Georgia. Her case was one of the 5,000 filed by families of autistic children until the US Department of Health and Human Services reviewed her medical records. In 2008 the US Department of Health and Human Services decided that vaccines may have played a part in exacerbating her symptoms caused by the enzyme deficit. No hearing was heard and no case was presented to the "vaccine court" as her case was conceded administratively.
The case was concluded without cause.
What makes the case seem like a smoking gun for vaccines causing autism is that Hannah had a series of ear infections, delaying vaccinations until receiving 5 in one day at 19 months of age. She experienced side effects such as irritability, rash, and a bad fever. Two months later, she became very sick, and would pull at her left ear. Five months later, it was noted that she had a speech delay, and at one point in time it was noted that she didn't like eye contact. While speech delay and avoidance of eye contact are hardly exclusive to autism, anti-vaxxers were quick to blame the vaccines as the perfect fit for their "theories".
A prominent autism blogger noted that descriptions of Hannah didn't show enough evidence to meet the diagnostic criteria of autism. The only autistic-like traits she showed were differences in social relatedness, avoidance of eye contact, and an interest at staring at fluorescent lights (possibly a sign of sensory processing disorder, a condition that is common in but not limited to autistic people).
Hannah was quickly found to have a mitochondrial enzyme deficit that caused encephalopathy. Mitochondrial disorders are starting to be frequently found in autistic people as the ability to diagnose it becomes more accurate and less costly. It is a very rare disorder group where research is still limited, but the disorder often causes autism symptoms between 1 & 2 years of age. Cases have pointed to infections worsening encephalopathy with this disorder. While not admitting cause, there isn't anything disproving that vaccines can make encephalopathy worse. Likely resulting the case being found for the family.
It was trumpeted as a smoking gun by the anti-vaccine crowd. However, as Steven Novella has repeatedly stated, this case "...involves a rare, underlying mitochondrial disorder that is not relevant to other vaccine cases." Not that the vaccine denier crowd gives a shit about facts or reality as Jenny McCarthy is still a renowned spokesperson for mothers affected by vaccines and autism... even though her child probably has Landau-Kleffner syndrome instead of autism.
- The New England Journal of Medicine - Correspondence Vaccines and Autism Revisited
- The Hannah Poling case and the rebranding of autism by antivaccinationists as a mitochondrial disorder - Science-Based Medicine
- Vaccines, Autism and the Concession
- United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation - Disorder Types
- Oliveira G, Ataide A, Marques C, et al. Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorder in Portugal: prevalence, clinical characterization, and medical conditions. Dev Med Child Neurol 2007;49:726-733
- Vaccines and Autism Revisited — The Hannah Poling Case
- It's a common misdiagnosis, but it's been almost 5 years now... maybe she should realize the mistake.