Background: The field of autism research is currently divided based on a fundamental question regarding the nature of autism: Some are convinced that autism is a pandemic of modern culture, with environmental factors at the roots. Others are convinced that the disease is not pandemic in nature, but rather that it has been with humanity for millennia, with its biological and neurological underpinnings just now being understood.
Objective: In this review, two lines of reasoning are examined which suggest that autism is indeed a pandemic of modern culture. First, given the widely appreciated derailment of immune function by modern culture, evidence that autism is strongly associated with aberrant immune function is examined. Second, evidence is reviewed indicating that autism is associated with 'triggers' that are, for the most part, a construct of modern culture. In light of this reasoning, current epidemiological evidence regarding the incidence of autism, including the role of changing awareness and diagnostic criteria, is examined. Finally, the potential role of the microbial flora (the microbiome) in the pathogenesis of autism is discussed, with the view that the microbial flora is a subset of the life associated with the human body, and that the entire human biome, including both the microbial flora and the fauna, has been radically destabilized by modern culture.
Conclusions: It is suggested that the unequivocal way to resolve the debate regarding the pandemic nature of autism is to perform an experiment: monitor the prevalence of autism after normalizing immune function in a Western population using readily available approaches that address the well-known factors underlying the immune dysfunction in that population.
Keywords: autism; fauna; microbiome; pandemic.