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Flu shots are safe for pregnant women

Not that it was required, but there’s even more evidence that flu shots are safe and efficacious for pregnant women, neonates and fetuses. A study published recently in Obstetrics & GynecologyEffect of influenza vaccination in the first trimester of pregnancy, investigated the effects of influenza vaccinations on fetal and neonatal outcomes. 

Over a 5 year study period, a total of 8,690 women received a seasonal trivalent inactive influenza vaccine during the first trimester, and delivered babies at the study institution. Some of the key results were:

  • Women vaccinated during pregnancy were significantly older with more pregnancies than women who declined vaccination.
  • About 2 percent had a baby with a major birth defect, such as a malformation in the heart or a cleft lip, identical to the rate among almost 77,000 pregnant women who did not get the vaccine.
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower stillbirth (0.3% compared with 0.6%, P=.006).
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower neonatal death (0.2% compared with 0.4%, P=.01).
  • Women who were vaccinated had lower premature delivery rates (5% compared with 6%, P=.004).Read More »Flu shots are safe for pregnant women

Circumcision–separating science from opinion

Circumcision is one topic that certainly brings up more emotion than just about any medical procedure. In fact, the same level of rhetoric is used for and against circumcision that one hears with regards to vaccines, or even abortion. Recently, the city of San Francisco attempted to ban the practice, but a judge ruled that only the state could regulate medical procedures. During the summer, a German court banned circumcision for religious purposes, though a German court banning a Jewish practice must have blown up irony meters across the world.

In any discussion about circumcision, there is general consensus that female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, is an abhorrent non-medical procedure that is simply an anti-female procedure in many male-dominated societies. We’re not talking about that, and any comparison between male and female circumcision is a strawman argument. It is also clear that part of the anti-circumcision argument centers around secularism and atheism, because male circumcision is integral to both the practice ofJudaism and Islam. That is a valid argument, and there could even be a concern that unskilled individuals performing ritual circumcisions could cause serious complications. I personally could care less about religious rituals as long as they don’t harm anyone, so this is where we need to determine what the evidence tell us. Read More »Circumcision–separating science from opinion

New research shows vaccine denialists put others at risk

In a recent article published in the American Journal of Public Health, Exposure of California Kindergartners to Students With Personal Belief Exemptions From Mandated School Entry Vaccinations, by Alison Buttenheim, Malia Jones, and Yelena Baras, parents worried about the safety of vaccinations have caused a new problem in the comeback childhood diseases that haven’t been seen in a couple of generations. Buttenheim et al. wrote that a greater number of parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated through legally binding person belief exemptions, and explained that this increases the risk of infection for those with compromised immune systems and those who cannot get vaccinations. Traditionally, these individuals relied upon herd immunity, which describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity.Read More »New research shows vaccine denialists put others at risk

Failure of vaccine denialism–most US kindergarten students are vaccinated

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for August 24, 2012 reported that most kindergartners in the United States received their recommended vaccines for measles and other diseases during the 2011-12 school year but that unvaccinated clusters continue to pose a health risk. Overall, 47 states and DC reported 2011–12 school vaccination coverage, median MMR vaccination coverage was 94.8%, with a range of 86.8% in Colorado to 99.3% in Texas. Four states reported <90% MMR vaccination rates: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas and Pennsylvania.Read More »Failure of vaccine denialism–most US kindergarten students are vaccinated

Whooping cough: North Carolina reports first infant death in 2012

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reported North Carolina’s first infant death from whooping cough on August 20, 2012. The child was only 2 months old. “Babies and young children are not fully immunized until they have finished a series of vaccinations, so their only protection against whooping cough is the people around them,” said State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald. “Anyone who lives with or will be around a baby should be vaccinated.” In other words, someone who was not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated passed the infection to this child.Read More »Whooping cough: North Carolina reports first infant death in 2012

Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article on how to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles. It discusses how we should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others. With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).

Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience purveyors. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles on the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.Read More »Quality of science sources in Wikipedia and the news

The importance of Cochrane Reviews to science based medicine (updated)

Cochrane Collaboration Copyrighted from the Cochrane Collaboration

The Cochrane Collaboration is a critically important source in evidence-based medicine, and a useful tool in providing analytical evidence that can debunk pseudoscientific beliefs. Cochrane’s goal is to organize research data and publications in an logical way that helps physicians and researchers make appropriate decisions about a proposed new therapy, medication or clinical idea. Cochrane Reviews are:

…are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. They also assess the accuracy of a diagnostic test for a given condition in a specific patient group and setting.

Each systematic review addresses a clearly formulated question; for example: Can antibiotics help in alleviating the symptoms of a sore throat? All the existing primary research on a topic that meets certain criteria is searched for and collated, and then assessed using stringent guidelines, to establish whether or not there is conclusive evidence about a specific treatment. The reviews are updated regularly, ensuring that treatment decisions can be based on the most up-to-date and reliable evidence.Read More »The importance of Cochrane Reviews to science based medicine (updated)

Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk

Here we go again. The popular press gets ahold of a scientific study, misinterprets it, and runs a scary story. Of course, it’s much worse if the scientific study published in a respected journal seems to also misinterpret the study. As I mentioned before, a true skeptic needs to critically analyze whatever is written in the press by going to the original study whenever possible; but what happens if that study requires some critical analysis? Well, I never said it was easy. If you want easy, denialism is really easy!

So back to the eggs. All across the news during the past week or so, you probably saw a story that eating egg yolks cause arteriosclerosis, a chronic condition in which an artery wall thickens as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterol. Some people may have already believed that anecdotally, but a new article published in AtherosclerosisEgg yolk consumption and carotid plaque, concluded that, 

Our findings suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease. This hypothesis should be tested in a prospective study with more detailed information about diet, and other possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference.Read More »Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk

Vaccine denialism causes USA’s worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years

Steven Salzberg, at Forbes Magazine, has reported that the USA is experiencing the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. In addition, the CDC has stated that as of  August 4 2012 (pdf), there are 21,000 cases and 10 deaths in the United States from whooping cough(Bordetella pertussis) year-to-date. Wisconsin has the highest rate of infection, while Washington, as I have discussed on a number of occasions, has one of the highest total number of pertussis infections. 

Increases in pertussis outbreaks by state from 2011 to 2012.

Read More »Vaccine denialism causes USA’s worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years

Eating like our great ape relatives

Lately, I’ve had some interesting conversations with my friend Cathy, who is an artist and designer, about a whole raft of topics in medicine and science. She proclaims she has no scientific background, but she’s intensely curious about science and about what I write, so what else could a blogger want? Recently, we were discussing what constituted a good diet. I was trying to cut through what was myth and what was science, but sometimes it can be difficult to do so. My thoughts have always been that the human physiology is amazingly resilient, and as long as you have no chronic diseases, there is nothing one can do that will make the situation much better or much worse. Yes, maintaining levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, iron, and others, are critical, but in the modern world, it’s almost impossible to miss out on those micronutrients.Read More »Eating like our great ape relatives