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Older fathers may be linked to child autism
As many as 20 to 30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be because of the father’s advanced age, a new study found.
August 23rd, 2012
05:33 PM ET

Older fathers may be linked to child autism

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

Women aren’t the only ones whose biological clocks are ticking: A new study on the genetics of autism finds the sperm of older men may be to blame for many cases of the disorder.

The study, done by researchers in Iceland, indicates that as many as 20-30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be linked to the father’s advanced age.  Unlike findings on disorders such as Down Syndrome, this study found that the age of the mother made no difference.

“This is really a paradigm shift,” said Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director of the New York University Fertility Center.

Traditionally, women have borne the brunt of concerns about having a healthy child as they age, while many men have assumed their sperm were no different at 80 than at 20.

“I had my babies at 38 and 39 and I was terrified,” said anchor Ashleigh Banfield on CNN Newsroom. “Honey, you’re in the conversation now. It’s not just me.”

Video: Older fathers may be linked to autism

While older men have an increased risk of fathering a child with autism, the risk is still low – 2% at the most for dads over 40, according to the new study.

The authors looked at random mutations in genes that are linked to autism and schizophrenia. Looking at 78 families, the researchers found that on average, a child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to the father’s genes. Children born to 40-year-old fathers had 65 mutations.

As men age, "Sperm will have acquired more mutations than when they were younger, which will increase the chance of children they father inheriting a disease-producing mutation,” said Richard Sharpe, who does research on male reproductive health at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh.

One scientist said men might want to take a tip from some young women who freeze their eggs to use when they’re older.

“Collecting the sperm of young adult men and cold-storing for later use could be a wise individual decision,” wrote Alexey Kondrashov, a professor who studies evolution at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute.

With autism, no longer invisible


August 23rd, 2012
11:00 AM ET

Fast facts on West Nile virus

The recent West Nile virus outbreak is the largest ever seen in the United States, according to new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of cases so far this year is the highest recorded through September since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999. As of Tuesday, 48 states had reported human infections. The cases reported to the CDC as of Tuesday total 2,636, including 118 deaths.

Here are some fast facts about the virus. For more on what you need to know to protect yourself and your family, read Elizabeth Cohen's Empowered Patient column.

Background on the West Nile virus

– Symptoms of infection include: fatigue, fever, headache, body aches, rash, and swollen lymph nodes.

– Those who become ill may develop West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

– There is no vaccine or specific treatment for West Nile virus.

– The virus is spread by mosquitoes, which contract West Nile from infected birds.

– According to the CDC, only 1% of people bitten by West Nile-infected mosquitoes become seriously ill.

– It is not known how the virus arrived in the United States.

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Filed under: Conditions • Infectious diseases • Public Health

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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