Court says measles vaccine not to blame for autism

WASHINGTON – In a big blow to parents who believe vaccines caused their children’s autism, a special court ruled Thursday that the shots are not to blame.

The judges in the cases said the evidence was overwhelmingly contrary to the parents’ claims — and backed years of science that found no risk.

“It was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive,” the court concluded in one of a trio of cases ruled on Thursday.

The ruling was anxiously awaited by health authorities and families who began presenting evidence nearly two years ago. More than 5,500 claims have been filed by families seeking compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The claims are reviewed by special masters serving on the U.S. Court of Claims.

“Hopefully, the determination by the special masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

An attorney for the families did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

To win, the families’ attorneys had to show that it was more likely than not that the autism symptoms in the children were directly related to a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella shots and other shots that at the time carried a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal.

But the court concluded that “the weight of scientific research and authority” was “simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention.”

“It’s a great day for science, it’s a great day for America’s children when the court rules in favor of science.” said Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The court still has to rule on separate claims from other families who contend that, rather than a specific vaccine combination, the lone culprit could be thimserosal, a preservative that is no longer in most routine children’s vaccines. But in Thursday’s rulings, the court may have sent a signal on those cases, too:

“The petitioners have failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to causing immune dysfunction,” a judge wrote about one theory that the families proposed to explain how autism might be linked.

In 2001, parents began filing petitions for compensation through the vaccine compensation program.

The petitioners originally sought to present three different theories of how vaccines could cause autism. For each theory, there were to be three test cases.

Under the government’s vaccine compensation program, awards to the estate in a vaccine-related death are limited to $250,000 plus attorneys’ fees and costs. Awards to individuals with an injury judged to be vaccine-related have averaged more than $1 million.

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Gunmen kill family, including women, child in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Gunmen shot dead nine members of a family, six of them women and a child, in an overnight raid on their home in Iraq’s volatile northern Diyala province, police said.

The attackers then abducted two other family members, a man and woman, from the house in a village of near the town of Balad Ruz, 90 km (55 miles) north of Baghdad.

Diyala is still one of Iraq’s most violent provinces, a place where Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and other militant groups still roam despite repeated attempts to stamp them out.

Police did not know who was behind the attack or why the family, all Arabs from the Sunni sect, were targeted.

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Kashmir solidarity day to be observed on Feb 5

ISLAMABAD: Kashmir solidarity day would be observed in Pakistan on February 5 to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir regarding their right to franchise, which was also promised by the United Nations.

The day being observed annually would be of extreme importance this time given afresh-popular movement for freedom in Occupied Kashmir, which was also acknowledged by Indian civil society and media. It would be reviewed in different perspective as well following Mumbai attacks that strained Pak-India relations.

To celebrate Kashmir day in a befitting manner, a meeting of the inter-provincial co-ordination committee was held at Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) to arrangements in this respect.

The meeting which was presided over by Minister for KANA, Qamar Zaman Kaira discussed and expressed resolve to celebrate Kashmir solidarity day with full zeal and fervour.

It was decided in the meeting that the ministry of KANA would arrange a “Kashmiri convention” on February 5 to highlight the cause of Kashmir in a befitting manner.

Kaira said Pakistan would continue supporting the cause of Kashmir and the right to self-determination of people of held Kashmir. He said Pakistan observes “Kashmir Solidarity Day” on February 5 every year to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

The committee also decided to distribute a ‘Rashan Package’ comprising commodities of daily use among each family living in all Kashmir refugee camps on behalf of people of Pakistan.

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Priya Dutt denies rift over Sanjay’s SP link

NEW DELHI: After the Samajwadi Party announced it is fielding actor Sanjay Dutt for Lok Sabha polls, sister and Congress MP Priya Dutt said that she was shocked and upset that Sanjay did not consult her on the move.

Expressing her disappointment, Priya said Sanjay’s decision to associate with Sawajwadi Party for the Lok Sabha polls, saying “we have always been a Congress family”.

“Definitely there is disappointment. We have always been a Congress family. I wish he had fought for the Congress party,” Dutt, a sitting MP from northwest Mumbai seat, said.

She, however, said her brother’s decision to associate with Samajwadi Party was completely an individual one and that there was no family feud over it.

“There is no family feud. Everybody is free to take a decision for himself or herself. This is Sanjay’s decision and he has to take responsibility for this,” she said.
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Seven die in Siberian helicopter crash

BARNAUL: Seven people were killed, including a senior Russian official, when their helicopter crashed in a snow-covered mountain region of Siberia on Friday, officials said Sunday.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s representative to Russia’s lower house of parliament, Alexander Kosopkin, was one of the seven found dead on Sunday when rescuers finally located the wreckage of the helicopter in the Altai region of southern Siberia.

“Seven people died at the scene, including Alexander Kosopkin,” Daniyar Safiulin, head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry forces in Siberia, told a foreign news agency.

Medvedev offered his condolences to Kosopkin’s family, the Kremlin said in a statement. The group, which also included senior officials from the Altai region, was on a hunting expedition, local media said.

Four survivors were being treated in the city of Barnaul, two in a serious condition, an Emergencies Ministry spokesman said. The Emergencies Ministry corrected an earlier report that eight people had been killed in the crash.

One passenger was found in a state of shock, searching for help several kilometres from the crash site, Safiulin said.

A spokesman for the Altai region government said officials were investigating the possibility that poor quality fuel caused the helicopter’s engines to break down.

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Red Cross warns of deteriorating situation in Gaza

GENEVA: The plight of Palestinians trapped in Gaza is becoming increasingly precarious as the Israeli attack on the territory enters its third week, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Saturday.

“People trapped in zones where military operations are taking place are particularly affected,” it said in a statement from its Geneva headquarters.

The organisation, which has had to scale down its operations for security reasons, said it had received dozens of calls from people who were in zones which could not be reached and were experiencing increasing difficulty in maintaining contact with the outside world.

“Yesterday, we received a call from a family of 40 people, including 20 children, staying in a house in the Netzarim area. They told us they had not had drinking water for almost six days because the well supplying water to their house had been damaged,” the statement quoted an ICRC employee in Gaza as saying.

The employee herself was staying at her aunt’s house, together with 17 other family members who had fled insecure areas near Gaza City.

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Eight family members killed in Israeli strike

GAZA CITY: Eight members of the same Palestinian family, including a 12-year-old, were killed on Saturday by Israeli fire in the northern town of Jabaliya, medics and witnesses said.

Six other members of the Abed Rabbo family were wounded, according to medics from Kamel Adune hospital.

“We were at home when the bombing started,” Umm Mohammed told a foreign news agency from inside the hospital. “We fled towards another house and the tanks started firing. Several of us were hit.”

Israeli forces killed at least 22 people on Saturday, according to Dr Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services, as warplanes launched over 40 air strikes across the territory overnight into Saturday.

Since the Israeli offensive began on December 27, at least 821 people have been killed, including 235 children, 93 women, and 12 paramedics, according to Hassanein.

Another 3,350 people have been wounded in the onslaught, overwhelming Gaza’s beleaguered medical facilities, already weakened from an Israeli blockade of the territory in force since Hamas seized power in June 2007.

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Autopsy completed on John Travolta’s son

FREEPORT, Bahamas – Doctors in the Bahamas conducted an autopsy Monday on John Travolta‘s 16-year-old son, but authorities did not immediately disclose the results.

Bahamian Minister of Health Hubert Minnis said the autopsy was finished but declined to comment on what may have caused the death of Jett Travolta, who had a history of seizures and was found unconscious in a bathroom Friday at a family vacation home.

Jett’s body was expected to be transferred soon to Grand Bahama’s Restview Memorial Mortuary, said Glen Campbell, an assistant funeral director.

The family plans to send his remains by Wednesday to Ocala, Fla., where the actor owns a home, said Obie Wilchcombe, a family friend and member of the Bahamian parliament.

Travolta tried CPR to revive his son, and Jett may have died in his arms before an emergency medical technician took over, reported, citing McDermott and another attorney for Travolta, Michael Ossi.

“We are heartbroken that our time with him was so brief. We will cherish the time we had with him for the rest of our lives,” Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, said Sunday in their first public statement since Jett’s death.

Travolta, 54, and Preston, 46, have said that Jett became very sick when he was 2 years old and was diagnosed with Kawasaki Syndrome, an illness that leads to inflamed blood vessels in young children. Preston has blamed household cleaners and fertilizers and said that a detoxification program based on teachings from the Church of Scientology helped improve his health, according to People magazine.

A police statement said that Jett had not been seen since Thursday when a caretaker, Jeff Kathrain, found him unconscious late Friday morning.

But Michael McDermott, an attorney for the actor, said police wrongly left the impression that Jett was unsupervised. He said two nannies were with Jett throughout the evening, and he does not believe the teen was in the bathroom for a long time.

About a dozen security guards and Bahamian police officers patrolled around the luxury Old Bahama Bay resort community Sunday where Travolta and Preston remained inside their home. The white-sand beach in front of the suites was closed.

The couple also have an 8-year-old daughter, Ella Bleu.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham sent condolences to the Travolta family and said the autopsy is a formality the country requires in cases of sudden death to rule out foul play.

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Gaza civilians left exposed in Israeli invasion

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – With booms from artillery and airstrikes keeping them awake, the 10 members of Lubna Karam’s family spent the night huddled in the hallway of their Gaza City home.

Earlier strikes shattered the living room windows, letting cold air pour in. The Karams haven’t had electricity for a week and have run out of cooking gas. The family, including three small children younger than four, eats cold, canned beans.

“It’s war food,” said Karam, 28. “What else can we do?”

As Israel’s offensive against Hamas moves from pinpointed airstrikes to ground fighting and artillery shelling, Gaza’s civilians are increasingly exposed. Some two dozen civilians were killed within hours after the start of Israel’s ground invasion Saturday night.

Israel says eight days of aerial bombardment, followed by the ground invasion, seek to undermine Hamas’ ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state. So far, more than 500 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed. Palestinian and U.N. officials say at least 100 Palestinian civilians are among the dead.

The ground offensives will put Israeli solders, Gaza militants and civilians in much closer quarters.

The guiding principle of Israel’s ground invasion is to move in with full force and try to minimize Israeli casualties, Israeli military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote in the daily Yediot Ahronoth. “We’ll pay the international price later for the collateral damage and the anticipated civilian casualties,” Fishman said.

While Israeli said its airstrikes have targeted only Hamas installations and leaders, some of the bombs were so powerful that they destroyed or damaged adjacent houses.

Karam said she always felt under threat. She said her family didn’t sleep. “We keep hearing the sounds of airplanes and we don’t know if we’ll live until tomorrow, or not,” she said.

Anas Mansour, 21, a resident of the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border, said he and his family may try to leave the area later Sunday. Mansour said he was sleeping in his clothes, with his identification cards in his pocket in case he had to flee quickly.

He said he could see his neighbor loading a donkey cart with mattresses and blankets to leave, but hadn’t yet decided if he’d do the same. “Where can we go? It’s all the same,” Mansour said.

Deprivation is nothing new in Gaza, but the Israeli-led blockade of the territory has grown increasingly tighter over the past two months, making cooking gas and many foods scare.

Adding to that, last week’s bombings damaged the strip’s sanitary and electrical infrastructure, leaving many residents without power and water, and most shops are now shuttered.

“When there was a siege, we kept taking about a catastrophe,” said Hatem Shurrab, 24, of Gaza City. “But then the airstrikes started, and now we don’t even know what word to use. There’s no word in the dictionary that can describe the situation we are in.”


Hubbard reported from Ramallah.

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