Why is the 2017-18 flu season is looking bad? Plenty of things to blame

2017-18 flu season

We have just passed the halfway point of the 2017-18 flu season, and if you are watching the news, you could get the impression that things are pretty bad. CDC reports that for this week, the cumulative hospitalization rate was 51.4 per 100,000, which is higher than the 43.5 per 100,000 reported at this same week during the 2014-2015 season. If that trend continues through the season, the number of influenza hospitalizations may exceed 710,000.

Furthermore, the CDC provided evidence of how bad this flu season actually is:

Last week, the number of people even in the clinic that had influenza-like illness was 6.6%. This week it is 7.1%. We’ve had two seasons in the last 15 years that were higher than that. The first was the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which peaked at 7.8% and the 2003-2004 season, which was a high severity H3N2 season, which peaked at 7.6%.

Furthermore, at least 53 children, under the age of 18, have died of influenza or complications of the virus. And because reporting lags by a few weeks, the numbers are undoubtedly going to be higher. These are all families that have to deal with a tragic loss of a child from a disease that many anti-vaccine people classify as “not dangerous.”

Because there is a lot of myths and tropes out there about the 2017-18 flu season, I thought I would list out some of the reasons why it’s so bad – but it’s mostly your fault.  Continue reading “Why is the 2017-18 flu season is looking bad? Plenty of things to blame”

Child food allergies – time to revise our recommendations and thinking

child food allergies

When I was in public school in the 1970s, I honestly recall few kids with food allergies. Today, child food allergies are so high, some school system ban peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. And if you’re an American, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an iconic lunch food for school age children.

My recollection of few of any child food allergies when I was a child myself. As an anecdote, that’s not too powerful, but it’s borne out by actual scientific data. For example, Australian children have the highest rate of food allergy in the world, with up to 10% of infants and 20% of school-aged children who have been diagnosed with a food allergy. Large studies, including a retrospective study of over 1 million children in the USA, have shown that overall food allergy prevalence was 6.7%. The most common allergenic foods were peanuts (2.6%), milk (2.2%), egg (1.8%), shellfish (1.5%), and soy (0.7%). Furthermore, food allergies were associated with development of respiratory issues such as asthma (2.16X risk over those without food allergies) and rhinitis (2.72X risk).

In Australia, there has been a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis from 1998 to 2012, the most severe allergic reaction. Infants and toddlers accounted for much of this increase. Anaphylaxis is the most serious allergic reaction to anything including food.

What stumps a lot of researchers is why the increase? Has our food supply become more allergenic? Some blame the addition of GMOs to our food supply, but that’s nonsense. In fact, some very good research may point us toward new recommendations to prevent child food allergies.

Continue reading “Child food allergies – time to revise our recommendations and thinking”

California eggs are more expensive – thank pseudoscience

There are lots of things that annoy scientists. Creationists. Climate change deniers. The antivaccination horde. GMO haters. The list really is quite long.

I talk about most of them quite a bit, because they are so fun to mock. And their denial can be harmful to our society and many species (including our own, humans). And these anti-science groups seem to ignore the consequences of their denialism.

One day I was grocery shopping, and I noticed that my California eggs are more expensive – why? Then I investigated it, and found out there were two reasons: first our massive drought. Not much we can do about that, except glare at the climate change deniers.

But the second reason troubled me quite a bit. And that’s the point of this article.

Continue reading “California eggs are more expensive – thank pseudoscience”

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. Continue reading “Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk”