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Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic hits 3400 cases

The Washington State Department of Health is reporting  that as of August 4, 2012, the current whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) epidemic has hit 3400 cases, over 15X more than the 214 cases reported at the same time last year. The epidemic has finally shown a big drop off in new reports this past week (pdf), although there are concerns that the numbers will increase against this fall as children return to school in the autumn.

Pertussis cases by week 2012 (red) vs 2011 (blue)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. More than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. Approximately 1-2% of infants who are hospitalized from pertussis will die.Read More »Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic hits 3400 cases

Whooping cough–effectiveness of pertussis vaccines

This year has been a bad one for whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) throughout the world. There have been large outbreaks of pertussis in the United States, England and Australia in 2012. There have been some hypotheses as to why it has been happening. For example, there is some speculation that a subtype (or genotype) of pertussis was responsible for the Australian outbreak, but the evidence is complicated and equivocal. I think there is some evidence that the epidemic in Washington state results from the much lower vaccination rates in the area as a result of the anti-vaccination lunacy. 

But the story may be much more complicated, and may need a more open discussion amongst those responsible for protecting us from these infectious diseases. These pertussis outbreaks may be a result of the reduced performance of the pertussis vaccine currently being used. The problem with an open discussion regarding the current vaccine is that the vaccine denialists will make an absolute claim that the pertussis vaccine does not work (of course, a complete fabrication, typical of the anti-vaxxers), instead of the more accurate position that the pertussis vaccine might not have the high level of effectiveness that was originally thought. Ironically, the current vaccine, the acellular pertussis version, replaced the older and more effective whole pertussis vaccine because critics believed the older version had too many side effects.Read More »Whooping cough–effectiveness of pertussis vaccines

High fructose corn syrup–myth versus science

Like monosodium glutamate (MSG), the additive that everyone avoids, except there is absolutely no evidence that it does anything to anyone, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has evolved to become the current pariah of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, with that “high fructose” leading you to believe it has to be bad. But is it? 

That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.

Read More »High fructose corn syrup–myth versus science

Debunking the “vaccines aren’t tested” myth

There are so many silly memes that have arisen from the anti-vaxxers, all of which have been thoroughly debunked. Everything from the well-worn (and worn-out) “vaccines cause autism” fable, quashed here, to the “these diseases aren’t dangerous”, which, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth. One of the more annoying of the tales pushed by the vaccine denialists is that vaccines aren’t tested thoroughly before being used on unsuspecting infants. I do not know where this started, or why it started, but like much in the anti-vaccination world, it really doesn’t matter. It just passes from one person to another across google, and individuals with no research background hold this particular belief as if it were the Truth™.Read More »Debunking the “vaccines aren’t tested” myth

Whooping cough–UK epidemic leads to 5 infant deaths

According to the Guardian, a total of 2,466 cases of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) have been confirmed in the United Kingdom between January and June of 2012, causing the deaths of 5 infants. The UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that the number of cases is six times larger than the last comparable outbreak in 2008. The government’s vaccination committee is “now considering recommending booster vaccinations for teenagers and pregnant women and has already recommended immunising healthcare workers who treat young children because infants are most at risk.”

Also according to the article, Mary Ramsay, the HPA’s head of immunization, said: “We are working closely with the Department of Health’s Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunization to consider the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak. The committee is reviewing a number of options, including the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and offering whooping cough vaccination to pregnant women. In the meantime we are actively reviewing our cases to see what interventions could have the quickest impact on the spread.”Read More »Whooping cough–UK epidemic leads to 5 infant deaths

Anti-vaccine lunatic proud to spread infection to unsuspecting children

That is a screen shot from a Facebook posting on July 14, 2012 where a mother describes how she took her child, infected with chickenpox (Varicella zoster), to a baseball game. And she bragged how she probably infected others (probably most were vaccinated, which indicates he level of understanding of immunizations). She was so proud of attempting to infect others with her son’s chickenpox that she had to tell everyone about it. The stupidity of her actions were beyond comprehension by me.Read More »Anti-vaccine lunatic proud to spread infection to unsuspecting children

Parents put immunocompromised child at risk by not vaccinating sibling

Chickenpox, or Varicella zoster, is a common childhood disease that can result in fairly serious complications such as encephalitis, pneumonia, sepsis, hemorrhagic varicella, and death. Individuals at especially high risk from complications from varicella are immunocompromised, usually from some sort of immunodeficiency or immunosuppression (usually pharmaceutical treatments for cancers or autoimmune diseases). For immunocompromised individuals, it is important that any individuals around them should be vaccinated against common childhood diseases, whether chickenpox or other diseases (mumps, rubella, etc.), because the chances of transmitting these diseases is extremely high and the risk of complications are serious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a 3 year old Minnesota girl, who was receiving immunosuppressive therapy for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, was admitted to a hospital after 2 days of a high fever of 102.7°F (39.3°C) and extensive rash, including in her mouth and throat. Neither she nor her younger sibling received the first dose of varicella vaccine (recommended at 12-15 months) because their parents refused the vaccinations as a result of personal beliefs. The child eventually recovered as a result of treatment with intravenous acyclovir (which has more serious potential side effects than the imagined ones for the vaccine).Read More »Parents put immunocompromised child at risk by not vaccinating sibling

Chicken vaccine viruses recombine in wild, anti-vaccine conspiracies abound

For the past five years, there have been large outbreaks of infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) in chickens in Australia. ILT is a highly contagious herpesvirus, and one of a group that includes herpes and chickenpox. The chickens become very ill with red and swollen eyes, along with sneezing, coughing and gasping, while occasionally producing a bloody nasal discharge. Mortality is quite high, and surviving chickens produce fewer eggs, which, of course, is very bad for chicken farmers.

The diseases are usually prevented by a vaccine against ILT. Many vaccines against viruses, including the ILT version, contain live attenuated viruses (LAV), which are viruses that have reduced virulence, though still alive, so that the immune system recognizes it to develop an immune response. Attenuation takes an infectious agent and alters it so that it becomes harmless or less virulent.Read More »Chicken vaccine viruses recombine in wild, anti-vaccine conspiracies abound

Anti-science hysteria vs. dengue fever

Four hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the anti-vaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

The British newspaper, the Guardian, is reporting that a small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, is running into public resistance to testing a genetically modified mosquito that may stop the spread of the species of mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the Florida Keys. Dengue fever is a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4) that are transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most important transmitter or vector of dengue viruses in North America.Read More »Anti-science hysteria vs. dengue fever

Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2800 cases

The Washington State Department of Health has reported (pdf) that the current whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) epidemic has hit 2883 cases, over 10X more than the 210 cases reported at the same time last year. The epidemic seems to have peaked a few weeks ago, although concerns will remain as children return to school in the autumn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. More than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. Approximately 1-2% of infants who are hospitalized from pertussis will die.Read More »Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2800 cases