Autism - the condition that impairs children's social skills and development - is probably caused by pollutants such as pesticides, viruses and household chemicals, new research suggests.
Cases of autism in developed countries have risen dramatically in the past 15 years; in the state of California alone, 3000 new cases were reported in 2006 compared to just 205 cases in 1990.
Using statistics from the state, researchers has discovered that the numbers of cases continue to rise, and have yet to plateau.
Research team leader Irva Hertz-Picciotto, from the University of California, believes it is time to start monitoring toxins and pollutants in our environment, to which children and even fetuses are constantly exposed.
While some researchers believe genetics play a key part in the autism rise, Hertz-Picciotto says that the steep rise cannot be explained by genetic changes, which would become evident only on a much larger timescale. "The culprits are likely to be microbial and the chemical worlds," she said.
(Source: Epidemiology, 2009; 20: 84-90).