Despite the rigid beliefs of the anti-vaccine religion, the science is settled – vaccines are not causally linked to autism or any other neurodevelopmental issue. Arguing about this is a waste of time, if not for the fact that some parents might resist vaccinating their children because they heard these unfounded claims. But that doesn’t mean scientific research has quit looking for what causes autism.
Scientific research has focused on genetics as the underlying cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (see Note 1). But often, environmental triggers could induce the upregulation of genes, which may lead to ASD.
During this search for what causes autism, scientists have uncovered a potential link between infections during pregnancy and autism. In fact, this new data may be evidence for pregnant women to be fully vaccinated before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of those infections. Continue reading “What causes autism? Maybe infections during pregnancy but not vaccines”
In 2014, I reported on an outbreak of a mysterious viral disease that exhibited polio-like symptoms. At the time, around 23 children and young adults were afflicted with this polio-like syndrome, known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). After that report the outbreak grew and, another 100 children in the USA were diagnosed with AFM in 2014.
This outbreak caused the public health sleuths to search for the actual causes of this polio-like syndrome. Of course, the anti-vaccine religion had to jump in with their unfounded opinions about the outbreak which led to the anti-vaccine tropes about polio vaccine.
As we know, olio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, a human enterovirus, that spreads from person to person invading the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis. Because polio has no cure, the polio vaccine is the best way to protect ourselves from the crippling disease.
The United States last experienced a polio epidemic in the 1950s, prior to the introduction of the polio vaccine 60 years ago. Today, polio has been eradicated from most of the planet, as the number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to 113 in 2017 – a decline of more than 99% in reported cases.
Because real scientists wanted to know what caused this polio-like syndrome outbreak, they tried to hunt down the actual cause. And that’s when they landed on enterovirus 68, a once-rare virus. As we always do, we’ll look at the facts behind this virus and it’s relationship to polio (or polio vaccines).
Continue reading “Polio-like syndrome – blame enterovirus 68 not vaccines”
I have written extensively about several whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) outbreaks which had reached epidemic levels in areas like the Washington state, which had been considered one of the worst outbreaks in the USA during the past several decades. This whooping cough outbreak has lead to several deaths here in the USA and in other countries such as the UK.
Of course, these outbreaks and epidemics have lead to the “blame game” from the antivaccination cult, because they have claimed that since A) most kids are vaccinated, and B) we’re having this outbreak, then C) either the vaccines are useless or are actually the cause of the outbreak. Seriously. They blame the vaccines.
There have been numerous reports about a whooping cough outbreak in the Reno County, KS area, with about 70 cases of the disease being reported. The report indicates that most of the kids who have the disease were vaccinated. It is unclear who said this, and what are the actual statistics. But for now, we’ll take this at face value.
Since this outbreak will undoubtedly lead to the typical antivaccine rhetoric about the whooping cough vaccines, DTaP or Tdap (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), I decided to search the internet to find the most popular vaccine denialist arguments regarding pertussis vaccinations–then debunk them. Hopefully, this will be useful for those who are observing what’s going on in Reno.
Continue reading “Whooping cough outbreak – science and simple math”
So you’ve decided to forsake the flu vaccine because you buy into the easily-debunked myths of the anti-vaccine world. Then you catch the flu, which is considered a very dangerous disease despite some of the myths. Then, you send someone to go down to the local drug store to find one of those advertised flu treatments. It’s time to look at these common “flu treatments” and determine whether there is any scientific evidence supporting their usefulness.
I’ve written previously about various supplements and treatments for the common cold, and they mostly don’t work. Or the evidence is so weak that it’s a waste of money to use them.
These ineffective treatments exist for one reason – money. Common cold and flu treatments are a significant part of the estimated global US$278 billion supplement and nutraceutical industry. And the industry is largely unregulated, so they can make unsupported claims, and people buy them based on the woo.
Let me be frank – your best, and really, only choice to prevent the flu is getting the seasonal flu vaccine. It is the only method to boost your or your children’s immune system against the flu.
Although there’s some overlap between common cold and flu treatments, there are a large number of flu treatments that get sold over the counter, although one is sold by prescription. Are any effective? Let’s find out. Continue reading “Flu treatments – do any of them work, or should I just get the vaccine?”
In a 2013 study of over 1 million girls, the overall HPV vaccine safety for teenage girls was reaffirmed. There appear to be no links between serious adverse events and the HPV vaccines. This is in line with numerous other large size epidemiological studies of HPV vaccines.
Let’s take a look at the HPV vaccine safety that is supported by this trial.
Continue reading “HPV vaccine safety – another massive scientific study (UPDATED)”
Over the past decade, Lyme disease has spread from its traditional confines of the northeast USA to throughout the country. Even though dogs have access to a Lyme disease vaccine, there have not been any available for humans for 18 years. But that’s about to change.
Vaccine manufacturers do not value dogs more than humans for this vaccine. In reality, the blame for why there isn’t a Lyme disease vaccine for children can be placed right where some of you expect it to be – loud-mouthed anti-vaxxers without any scientific evidence supporting their hatred of the vaccine.
Of course, this happened in the mid-1990s, and the internet was in its infancy. But there were people pushing the same narrative that we hear about the cancer preventing HPV vaccine – that the Lyme vaccine was actually worse than the disease itself. They made these claims based on bad or no evidence.
But a new lyme disease vaccine might be on its way fairly soon. This is good news.
Continue reading “Lyme disease vaccine on the way – if only the anti-vaxxers stay away”
More and more people are being misdiagnosed with “chronic Lyme disease,” a medically unrecognized condition that encompasses (pdf) “a broad array of illnesses or symptom complexes for which there is no reproducible or convincing scientific evidence of any relationship to B. burgdorferi infection.” A whole industry of chronic Lyme disease treatments have arisen over the past few years to treat this pseudomedical condition.
There is no evidence that the symptoms of “chronic Lyme disease” are caused by a persistent and hidden B. burgdorferi infection. According to the eloquent Orac, it is simply a “fake disease.”
On the other hand, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) describes a set of persistent symptoms that arise after successful treatment of the Lyme disease. The symptoms of “chronic Lyme” are generic and non-specific “symptoms of life.”
Chronic Lyme disease treatments include mostly alternative medicine therapies, especially controversial and harmful long-term antibiotic therapy, particularly intravenous antibiotics. The CDC specifically disputes the effectiveness of long-term use of antibiotics to treat Lyme disease.
A new report from the CDC examined chronic Lyme disease treatments, and found that they are expensive, that they don’t work, and that they can be dangerous. Let’s take a look at that study. Continue reading “Chronic Lyme disease treatments – unproven and dangerous”
Apparently, the “polio vaccine causes cancer” zombie meme has been reanimated by the antivaccination cult. Lacking evidence for their beliefs, retreading old debunked memes is their standard operating procedure.
The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 140 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see an claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.
Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute this claim takes a lot more than 140 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to blast the claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.
And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Killing zombie memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these zombie memes is a full-time job. And, once it’s been debunked, we move back to the first problem again, again, and again.
Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – just a myth”
Here we go again, another anti-vaccine trope based on one paper without adequate scientific criticism of said paper. What is this trope? Mumps and measles infections prevent heart disease and stroke. Let me jump right to the conclusion – wrong.
Although I’ve seen this story before, like most zombie tropes in the anti-vaccine world, this one has come back from the dead. In the pseudoscientific website, Health Impact News, the author writes:
By my calculations, natural infection with the measles and mumps will prevent millions of heart attacks and strokes. Why is this information not all over the TV and internet? I will tell you why. Because mainstream media is in bed with Big Pharma who pay their bills. The politicians are slaves to their corporate masters. Our children should be exposed to every virus and bacteria for which a vaccine exists.
The author’s shrill claim is based on a 2015 article published in the lower impact factor journal, Atherosclerosis. The authors concluded that “measles and mumps, especially in case of both infections, were associated with lower risks of mortality from atherosclerotic CVD (cardiovascular disease).”
Now, it’s time to turn a critical and skeptical eye towards that article.
Mumps and measles infections prevent heart disease – the paper
The study evaluated lifestyle questionnaires from 43,689 men and 60,147 women who were aged 40-79 years at the baseline period of 1988-1990. Individuals of that age probably were not vaccinated against measles or mumps, since that vaccine wasn’t available for children until the late 1960s, when the individuals in the study would have been 20-50 years old. The questionnaire included history of measles and mumps, and were followed until 2009.
The authors then determined hazard ratios (HR, see Note 1) for mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD) between groups with history of measles and/or mumps infection versus those who did not have those infections. Here are some of the results of the analysis:
- Men with history of measles had an HR for all CVD deaths of 0.92.
- Men with history of both measles and mumps had an HR for CVD deaths of 0.80.
- Women with both infections had an HR for all CVD deaths of 0.85.
The researchers also looked at comparisons between infected and non-infected groups for various types of CVD, but these data probably are the most important.
The study also attempted to show that there was no difference in infected and non-infected groups for a series of confounding variables. They include:
- Body mass index
- Previous history of CVD
- Exercise level
- Stress level
Taken at face value, the research does seem to support the contention that we shouldn’t get the MMR vaccine to protect ourselves against measles and mumps, because catching those diseases may protect us against cardiovascular disease when we get older. But really, does it really gives us evidence to quit vaccinating? Let’s take look.
- This is a one-off primary study that has not been confirmed by any other researchers. This places it at the lower end of the hierarchy of scientific research.
- The authors did not propose a biologically plausible explanation. If one is to propose a correlation between two events, especially when the temporal difference is over 50-70 years, one must also propose a plausible reason why you might assume there is correlation. Is there a plausible reason for anyone to believe that a mumps or measles infection will protect someone from cardiovascular disease? I have a scientific bias towards plausibility, otherwise we can propose inane scientific hypotheses that waste the time of everyone involved.
- There is simply little evidence that measles or mumps is correlated with CVD – a review of PubMed for any articles that might establish a relationship between mumps and/or measles with CVD provided me with two articles. The first is the one we are discussing herein. The second, also published in Atherosclerosis, seems to indicate that mumps and measles is related to higher rates of CVD. This is why cherry picking is bad – you seek out articles that support your pre-conceived conclusion rather than let all of the evidence lead you to a conclusion.
- The use of questionnaires for epidemiological studies is frowned upon by many researchers. The reasons for this are many, but they include a reliance upon the memory of the participant for events that may be 50 or 60 years in the past. For a highly infectious disease like measles, it’s hard to believe that 50% of the participants in this survey caught neither mumps or measles as a child. It’s more likely that they actually had caught the disease but forgotten about it. A properly designed study would have measured measles and mumps antibodies then determined the HR. Or used actual medical records (like a lot of vaccine studies use for case control studies of vaccine effectiveness and safety).
- The hazard ratios were tiny. Yes, it appears that mumps and measles infections prevent heart disease – the data seem to show a 8-20% reduction in CVD risk. But is that clinically significant? If being vaccinated against measles and mumps showed a 200-300% increase in the risk of CVD, I would be impressed and troubled by the results. But such a tiny reduction in the risk could be explained by anything. A missing confounder. Other infectious diseases. Nutritional levels. In fact, I can go on and on. Furthermore, is an 8% reduction in risk of CVD, if it is valid, worth the risk of death or disabling conditions from contracting measles or mumps? Although the question is rhetorical, it’s actually necessary to come to a conclusion based on the results provided.
- Speaking of vaccines, why wasn’t vaccine status asked (although the same memory issues that would plague this questionnaire would still bother me here)? Even though most of the participants probably would have missed the vaccine, some may have gotten it.
- The results also showed a 5-20% increase in risk of CVD for women who had either mumps or measles. That result alone throws into question the whole study, because the results are all over the place.
Can one use this article to claim that mumps and measles infections prevent heart disease and stroke? Not really. The best I can say, and I’m doing this with a lot of trepidation, is that this study provides us with observational data, not a confirmation or refutation of a hypothesis about mumps and measles infections. It certainly does not give us any reason whatsoever to change public health priorities in vaccinating against mumps and measles despite the anti-vaccine tropes.
- A hazard ratio describes a ratio of hazard rates between two events. In the case of this study, if the rate of cardiovascular disease mortality for the mumps infected group is 1.0 and it’s 2.0 for the non-infected group, then the hazard ratio is 0.5. That is the mumps infected group is only 50% as likely to have died of cardiovascular disease as the non-infected group.
Anti-vaccine activists tend to grab onto any story that supports their narratives about vaccines. Generally, they comb the internet for any article that either tells us that vaccines don’t work, that they’re dangerous, or that the disease prevented is innocuous. It’s a frustrating process. Recently, an article was published that seemed to indicate chickenpox prevents glioma, a rare group of cancers that arise in the brain or spine. Then, by extension, some have claimed that not being vaccinated against chickenpox helps prevent glioma.
But is this valid? What does the evidence say about chickenpox and glioma? Is it even plausible that chickenpox has some biological relationship to glioma?
As always, answers aren’t as simple as the anti-vaccine group would like them to be. It’s complicated, as most science is.
Continue reading “Chickenpox prevents glioma – not a reason to avoid the vaccine”