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Protecting infants from whooping cough by cocooning

Infant being treated for pertussis infection. ©CDC, 2012.

This year, 2012, was one of the worst whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) outbreaks in the USA for the past 70 years, which included an outright epidemic in Washington state. Some of the reasons for the spread of the disease were a reduced whooping cough (Dtap) vaccination rate and reduced effectiveness of the Dtap (or TDaP) vaccine. Whooping cough is a serious disease, especially to children under the age of one year old, who have not been fully vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis about:

  • 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will dieRead More »Protecting infants from whooping cough by cocooning

Disappointing 2011 flu vaccination rates

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a comprehensive analysis of influenza vaccination rates of the US population during the 2011-2012 season. Mostly, the numbers continue to be disappointing, even in groups that should have higher rates of flu shots, such as pregnant women and healthcare workers. These numbers continue to demonstrate the difficulty in increasing the vaccine uptake rate in the US.

Public health officials has been pushing to increase the flu vaccination rates of healthcare workers. The numbers are somewhat disappointing, but as more states mandate flu vaccinations for healthcare workers, the rate may improve. The CDC found that about 63.4% of healthcare workers had been vaccinated for the flu as of November 2011, an 8 point improvement over 2010. 

But, according to a report in NBC News, “the group that should have 100 percent vaccination is health care workers. The CDC data show that more than 86 percent of physicians are vaccinated, followed by more than three-quarters of nurses. But the numbers plummet to just half of workers in long-term care facilities, where patients are especially vulnerable to flu.”Read More »Disappointing 2011 flu vaccination rates

Measles case confirmed at New York state school

The Dutchess County (NY) Department of Health, in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley, have confirmed a measles case at the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz, NY. The local Departments of Health are recommending that anyone “who has visited this school since September 10th or has had any contact with anyone from this school should immediately make sure that they are up to date with their measles vaccinations.  All medical practices and laboratories in the area should be on high alert that there may be a number of other children and families who have been exposed and could be communicable.”

Nirav R. Shah, the New York state health commissioner, has stated that almost half of the students have not received measles immunizations (MMR vaccine).  Measles immunization is a requirement in the state, but private schools have the authority to make exceptions. The kindergarten and elementary, which has slightly more than 130 students enrolled, is a private school is located in the New Paltz college community. Read More »Measles case confirmed at New York state school

Science does not require faith

Science denialists, whether they are creationists, global warming deniers, or anti-vaccinationists, are pseudoskeptics, who reject or ignore vast amounts of real evidence, just to maintain their point of view. Discussions with these individuals are generally frustrating because the denialists base their arguments on a very limited amount of education or background. As I’ve said before, at least with respect to vaccine denialism, they have spent no more than a few hours of research on the internet. Then using logical fallacies, whether it’s ad hominems, or appeals to nature, or  cherry picking data, they attempt to discredit the vast scientific and medical body of work, patting themselves on the back for their incredible skills in winning a scientific argument. Of course, most of the science against which they’ve been arguing has been performed by individuals with years of scientific education, training and professional research.

Is this research perfect? No, it isn’t. Nature has reported that a Japanese anesthesiologist, who authored over 200 “peer-reviewed” papers, is suspected of fraud on an epic scale. Over half of his papers are being retracted, and he has been dismissed from his faculty position in Japan. How he got away with this level of fraud is subject to a long discussion in the Nature article, but suffice it to say, there was a massive breakdown of the peer-review system at the level of his own university (which may be cultural in Japan) and by the way he published in a wide variety of journals, some of lower quality. I constantly point out that there are differences in journals, based on their impact factor (which is one way of measuring the amount of influence a journal has within the scientific community). However, and this is important, science is self-correcting, and in this case, it has corrected itself. Based on this one story, it would be insane to assume that ALL science is fraudulent. Even assuming a significant minority of science is fraudulent would be improper and not supported by any amount of evidence. Read More »Science does not require faith

Washington state makes it harder to get an immunization exemption

Paul Offit, MD

After one of the worst whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) epidemics in 70 years in Washington state, there is some good news. The New York Times has reported that the state, after passing a law that made it more challenging for a parent to get a personal exemption for a vaccination for their children, the exemption rate in Washington state has dropped by 25 percent. This is good news, because until recently Washington state was dead last in the immunization rate, or, if you like exemptions, it was number 1!

In 2011, the state’s legislature passed a law making exemptions a bit more difficult, by requiring parents to actually speak to a healthcare professional about the risks and benefits of vaccinations. That person then must sign off on the exemption. Parents who opted out of state immunization requirements for kindergartners peaked at 7.6 percent in the 2008-2009 school year, setting off alarms among public health experts in the state, according to the New York Times.Read More »Washington state makes it harder to get an immunization exemption

GMO corn causes cancer–Myth vs. Science (recent news)

Background

Genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. The major controversy surrounds the use of DNA recombination-introducing genes from one species into another. Despite all of this controversy, there is an amazing lack of data that shows that GMO foods are unsafe. In fact, there are secondary reviews that show it is safeRead More »GMO corn causes cancer–Myth vs. Science (recent news)

Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science

I’m trying out a new series, looking at some popular myths (mostly in medicine, but maybe we’ll wander outside of it when something interesting shows up) and determining if there’s any support or not in science. I’m going to link mostly to science articles and high-quality blogs, just so you have all the back-up evidence that you need. One way or another.

Background

Ginkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in enough quantity. Read More »Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science

The importance of flu surveillance

In 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic was an influenza pandemic that was first described in April 2009. The virus appeared to be a new strain of H1N1, which was responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic, that arose from a triple reassortment of bird, swine and human flu viruses that then further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus, leading to the term “swine flu” to be used for this pandemic. Unlike other strains of flu, H1N1 does not disproportionately infect older adults (greater than 60 years), which makes this a characteristic feature of this H1N1 pandemic, and made it especially dangerous to children. The CDC has reported some sobering worldwide statistics for the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, including that between 151,700 and 575,400 people perished worldwide from 2009 H1N1 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated. Read More »The importance of flu surveillance

Measles vaccine may be more effective if administered slightly later

A new research study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases has demonstrated that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) was more effective in teenagers who received their first dose of the two dose series at 15 months rather than at 12 months. The study was based on a more than 750 cases in 2011 of measles were reported in Quebec, Canada. Those individuals had received the routine 2-dose measles immunization schedule which is given at 12 and 18 months of age, which had been in effect in Quebec since 1996. This study assessed the effectiveness of this schedule during this outbreak that occurred during high school.Read More »Measles vaccine may be more effective if administered slightly later