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. Continue reading “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. Continue reading “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. Continue reading “Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2800 cases”

Third rate movie stars and the anti-vaccine lunatic fringe

It’s ironic that those who discuss the benefits of vaccines are world-class scientists and physicians. Dr. Paul Offit. The good doctors at Science Based Medicine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, of course, mountains of scientific evidence.

The anti-vaccine crackpots have Jenny McCarthy, the ex-playmate loudmouth. And Amy Farrah Fowler. Or Charlie Sheen. But now, Rob Schneider, whose career seems to have peaked 10 years ago playing misogynist roles in movies targeted to teenage males, a notoriously thoughtful group, has stepped into anti-vaccine pontificating. His particular brand of ranting is against California’s AB2109, which will allow parents to exempt their children from life-saving vaccines only after consultations with a healthcare provider. Right now, all a parent has to do to get a philosophical exemption to a vaccination is sign a letter. That’s it. No informed consent as to the risks to their child from these childhood diseases nothing. AB2109 does nothing more than require a signature of a physician that they discussed the exemption with the parent. I’m sure the anti-vaccine movement will publish lists of physicians who are opposed to vaccines who will gratefully sign the document for any parent who wants to put their children at risk. Continue reading “Third rate movie stars and the anti-vaccine lunatic fringe”

GlaxoSmithKline fined $3 billion by FDA for improper marketing and unethical behavior

Recently, the US Department of Justice ordered the pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to pay $3 billion in criminal and civil liabilities in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history. Basically, GSK was caught promoting several drugs for unapproved uses, failing to report safety data, paying kickbacks to physicians, and price reporting. Let’s look at the fraud charges one by one.

Unapproved uses (or off-label uses). By law, pharmaceutical companies are only allowed to market drugs according to what is stated in their package labeling which is approved by the FDA. Off-label uses are the practice of prescribing pharmaceuticals for an unapproved indication or in an unapproved age group, unapproved dose or unapproved form of administration. Physicians are legally allowed to prescribe drugs off-label (as long as it is not contraindicated), but the pharmaceutical company cannot directly or indirectly influence off-label use. In most cases, off-label use isn’t dangerous, nor is it particularly unethical.

GSK was accused of unlawfully promoting Paxil, an antidepressant, for treating patients under the age of 18, even though it lacked FDA approval for pediatric use. GSK participated in “preparing, publishing and distributing a misleading medical journal article that misreported a clinical trial of Paxil that demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of depression in patients under age 18, when the study failed to demonstrate efficacy.” What was most troubling was that GSK did not balance its study with data from two other studies in which Paxil failed to demonstrate efficacy in treating depression in patients under 18. Typical of this type of marketing, GSK sponsored dinners, lunches, spas, and similar types of programs to promote the off-label use of Paxil in children. It’s also important to note that Paxil includes a “black box warning“, the strongest FDA warning for a pharmaceutical product, that states that antidepressants make increase suicidal ideation and behavior in patients under 18. Continue reading “GlaxoSmithKline fined $3 billion by FDA for improper marketing and unethical behavior”

Recent polling on American views on climate change

The Washington Post and Stanford University recently published a poll on American attitudes toward global warming and the environment (pdf). Not surprisingly, almost three quarters of Americans accept recent global warming, but only 30% think that it is human caused, while 22% think that it is naturally caused, while 47% think it is equally human and naturally caused. This is relatively unchanged over the past six years of polling 

Asked if the world’s temperature is probably been going up over the past 100 years, 73% of respondents said yes, 25% of respondents said no, and 2% indicated that they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Asked “How much do you trust the things that scientists say about global warming?” 6% of respondents responded “completely,” 22% “a lot,” 33% “a moderate amount,” 26% “little,” 11% “not at all,” and 1% indicated that they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Interestingly, only 18% of Americans think that global warming is the most important environmental issue facing the world at this time. Pollution (which of course leads to global warming) was considered to be the largest issue, but numerous other problems including toxins in the environment, habitat loss, and other issues were also mentioned.

via A new poll on climate change | NCSE.

Whooping cough: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2600 cases

The Washington State Department of Health is reporting that there are 2647 confirmed cases of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) as of June 23, 2012. This number compares to only 187 cases during the same period in 2011. The epidemic has stricken 31 out of 39 counties (pdf) in the state with Skagit County having the highest number at 508 confirmed cases.

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.

Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired. The “whoop” is often not there and the infection is generally milder (less severe) in teens and adults, especially those who have been vaccinated.

Whooping cough can be easily prevented with the Tdap or DTaP vaccine. The problem is that infants are not initially vaccinated until they are 2 months old, and are not fully immunized until they’re 6 months old, so they are susceptible to adults who may be infected. Adults may have lapsed immunity or may have not been vaccinated.

It’s unknown why the epidemic in Washington state has grown so fast and so large, but it may be that there is a pool of anti-vaccine sentiment in the area. 

Vaccines save lives.

The best reason to detest the anti-vaccine movement

There are many reasons to loathe the anti-vaccine lunatics. Their decisions are based on pseudoscience and uninformed opinions. They listen to uneducated individuals instead of researchers who spend their lifetimes trying to understand the nuances of vaccines, the immune system and infectious diseases. They look for nonexistent conspiracies to such a point that they sound like a schizophrenic undergoing a psychotic break. They pretend to be interested in their children, and you almost want to believe them, but their conclusions are based on so little evidence, you begin to think that it’s all about the hype rather than the children.

Continue reading “The best reason to detest the anti-vaccine movement”

Whenever someone uses “Allopathy”, turn on the skeptical radar

While catching up on my favorite blogs (and nearly giving up after reading the 300th one regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare), I ran across Liz Ditz’s short and to-the-point Why I Dislike the Term “Allopathy” on I Speak of Dreams. Allopathy is an invented word that, according to Kimball Atwood at Science Based Medicine (Homeopathy & Evidence-Based Medicine),

…was the term coined by (Samuel) Hahnemann (founder of homeopathy) to dramatize the contrast between homeopathy and its competition. According to Hahnemann, “allopathic” medicine sought to give only medicines that suppressed symptoms.

You’ll find allopathy being used by just about any woo-meister in alternative medicine universe. Joe Mercola, anti-vaccine quack and promoter (and when I say promoter, I mean seller of all things alternative medicine) uses the term “allopathic” in 53 articles on his website to attack sound, evidence-based medicine. That’s basically proof that the word is a pejorative like “Western medicine” or “traditional medicine.” It tries to make it sound like evidence-based medicine is closed minded, stuck on tradition, when, in fact, it’s open-minded to new theories and techniques. 

In Wikipedia’s article on allopathy, “the meaning (as) implied by the label has never been accepted by conventional medicine, and is still considered pejorative by some.” However, in Wikipedia, the resource for all things woo, allopathy is often used by anti-science pushers to make their articles fit their pseudoscientific view of the world, and it is almost always used in a pejorative fashion to make alternative medicine appear to be somewhat more “open minded”. For example, here’s a discussion amongst the well-known pseudoscience pushers on Wikipedia claiming that allopathic medicine is not science based. Or Dana Ullman, the biggest promoter of homeopathy in the world, spending huge amounts of bandwidth trying to get Wikipedia to use allopathy to describe science based medicine. Of course, Dana was permanently banned from editing anything to do with homeopathy on Wikipedia based on his horrible behavior issues. If you see “allopathy” in a Wikipedia article, be prepared for pseudoscience.

Or as Liz Ditz puts it:

The chiroquacktors use the word allopathy a lot to disparage medicine (as opposed to their fantasy world).

Yup. They do.

Study clears vaccines as cause of Swedish celiac disease increase

A recently published study in Pediatrics, Early Vaccinations Are Not Risk Factors for Celiac Disease by A Myléus et al., concludes that “early vaccinations within the national Swedish program were not associated with celiac disease risk, nor could changes in the program explain the Swedish epidemic.” As background, between 1984 and 1996, the incidence of celiac disease in Swedish children under the age of two increased by four times. The increase ended just as abruptly. The cause of the increase and sudden end has been a mystery to researchers ever since.

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an abnormal response to gluten digestion, results from certain gene variants, but the disorder seems to be expressed as a result of unknown environmental factors. One of the factors that has been blamed in the past has been vaccines and were considered a culprit in the case of the Swedish children. However, no studies have ever shown a causation between vaccinations and expression of celiac disease, and this study dismisses any link in this particular situation.

Myléus et al. actually found that the introduction of pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccines corresponded with a decline in the incidence of celiac disease.  They continue to research the causes of the spike in celiac disease, since it might help with prevention of the expression of the underlying gene variants. For example, Myléus et al. believe that high wheat formulas used in Sweden at the time may hold the answer to the question. 

But at this time, the anti-vaccine lunacy can quit blaming celiac disease on vaccines.

via Vaccines cleared in Swedish celiac epidemic | Vaccine News Daily.