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Measles numbers multiply, myths linger

by Lisa Fratt on October 10, 2013

Two cases of measles, the highly contagious virus, have been confirmed just outside of Boston, according Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Later reports traced the disease to a Framingham Trader Joe’s shopping market.

And while most people in the United States have received vaccines against the disease, or got it and recovered as children making them immune, health officials are advising anyone displaying any symptoms to call a doctor. (It’s not recommended you go to a health care facility, out of fear you may infect others who have not been vaccinated.)

Many adults associate measles with mild illness and relatively harmless red spots. Not quite, says Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, associate medical director of Boston Children’s Primary Care Center. “Measles is different from chicken pox. A mild case of measles doesn’t exist.” That message takes on a new urgency in light of data released by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), which tallied 159 reported cases of measles from January 1-August 24 of this year.

The U.S. declared measles eliminated with no cases of continuous transmission for 12 months or longer in 2000. Since then, the number of annual cases has ranged from 37 to 220 in 2011. The current numbers suggest a potential problem.

The uptick isn’t huge, but could signal that the U.S. is on track to follow the path of England, which saw measles cases swell from 188 in 2004 to 2,030 in 2012. England has since launched an MMR immunization catch-up program to target previously unvaccinated children in an attempt to contain the spread of measles. Full story »

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Recognizing the symptoms of meningitis

by Tripp Underwood on November 23, 2011

A Boston middle school student died earlier this week, and bacterial meningitis is thought to be the cause of death. According to reports, the young girl complained to a school nurse that she felt sick on Friday; by Monday night she had died.

Meningitis is the term for an infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. There are lots of different kinds, from mild types of viral meningitis that completely resolve without any problems, to the severe kind of bacterial meningitis that is being blamed for this young girl’s death.

It’s a tragic story and one that’s likely to get media coverage because of the patient’s young age and the fact that bacterial meningitis can be contagious. It’s most likely to be transmitted from person to person in close living quarters, especially through coughing or sneezing, kissing or other activities where people share saliva, like sharing drinking glasses or water bottles.

It’s understandable that parents might become frightened when they hear about meningitis, but there is usually no reason to panic. Bacterial meningitis is uncommon, affecting only about 1 in 100,000 Americans each year.  And while it can spread between close contacts (especially people who live together, like families or students in dorms), people who have had more casual contact with meningitis are rarely at risk. Full story »

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Is the HPV vaccine dangerous?

by Tripp Underwood on September 13, 2011

Did you watch the presidential debate on Monday? Michele Bachmann, in an attack on her opponent Rick Perry, criticized the Texas governor for mandating that young girls in his state get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

In her statement Bachmann said she objected to forcing people to receive the vaccine, in part because she feels it’s a “potentially very dangerous drug.”

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Her comments have raised eyebrows on both sides of the political fence, and raised questions in the minds of parents. To address these concerns Thriving spoke with Lydia Shrier, MD, MPH, of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Division of Adolescent Medicine to get the facts on HPV and its vaccination.

What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human papillomavirus. There are more than 100 types of HPV, of which more than 30 are transmitted sexually—those are the ones most people are referencing when talking about HPV—and they can be separated into two types: low risk and high risk. Both can result in some form of genital disease, with the low risk-types typically leading to genital warts and minor abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. The high-risk types can lead to several forms of genital cancer, including cervical cancer. Full story »

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With autism, vaccines aren’t the problem, misinformation is

by Claire McCarthy on January 11, 2011

The news that Dr. Andrew Wakefield appears to have invented some of the information in his famous 1998 study linking the MMR vaccine and autism is shocking. But it’s old news that the study was not a good study. A year ago, The Lancet retracted it. And even before that, nobody had been able to replicate it, and many studies contradicted it.

Yet some people still want to believe the study. This is really frustrating to me.

I’m not frustrated because people want to believe Dr. Wakefield’s idea. We don’t know what causes autism. Hopefully we will soon, but until then any idea is open for discussion and investigation. What frustrates me is that even before these revelations, it was clear that the study was flawed. The study isn’t good science; it doesn’t show anything, let alone prove anything. Nevertheless, people have made decisions about immunizing their children based on it. That is really frustrating, especially when there is so much good science to show that vaccines don’t cause autism—and do save lives. Full story »

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As you may have heard on the news this morning, the British Medical Journal further discredited the research of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, an English doctor whose work attempts to link autism to vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella. Wakefield’s data and research practices have been questioned in the past, (he was barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. by the country’s General Medical Council in May) but two new articles from the BMJ go as far as to claim that his research was not only incorrect, but purposely falsified, possibly for financial gain.

Yesterday’s article and accompanying editorial will be the first in a series stating that Wakefield either misrepresented or altered information in his study of 12 children, whose autism he claims was linked to vaccination. According to the article’s author Brian Deer, the series will  “expose the bogus data behind claims that launched a worldwide scare over the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and reveals how the appearance of a link with autism was manufactured at a London medical school.”

Since 2004 Deer has been publishing stories discrediting Wakefield’s findings on the dangers of MMR vaccination, and now accuses the doctor of purposely submitting falsified data to prove his theories. A separate BMJ editorial written about Wakefield calls his work “an elaborate fraud.”

Leonard Rappaport MD, MS and chief of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Division of Developmental Medicine, has this to say about Wakefield’s work: Full story »

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Cocooning may protect newborns from whooping cough

by Tripp Underwood on July 19, 2010

Vaccinations have weakened, but not eradicated, many once fatal diseases

Vaccinations have weakened, but not eradicated, many once fatal diseases

Polio. Scarlet fever. Typhoid. Today, this list does little more than conjure up old memories of iron lungs, crutches and maybe one sad velveteen rabbit. But less than a century ago, these words were enough to make most parents go white with dread.

Thanks to advancements in medicine and vaccination, these diseases have been all but eradicated. But as powerful as modern medicine has become, there are still holes in its defenses, as proven by a recent Californian outbreak of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, that is well on its way to being the most widespread outbreak the state has seen in 50 years. So far over 900 cases of pertussis have been confirmed, with a death toll of at least five, prompting state health officials to declare it an epidemic.

The sheer volume of whooping cough cases has many parents worried and wondering how a commonly contained disease like pertussis could experience such a powerful revival. Full story »

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Personal choice versus public safety

by Tripp Underwood on April 14, 2010

doctor giving child a shotA recent outbreak of measles in Vancouver, as well as newly released study on a 2008 outbreak in the San Diego area, are raising questions about intentionally unvaccinated children and the potential health threat and costs they could pose to the public.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination to cases of autism, some parents fear vaccinations can lead to the disorder and opt not to have their children vaccinated.

“In general people underestimate the risk of the diseases that vaccines protect against, and overestimate the risks/side effects of the vaccines,” says Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, assistant in medicine in  General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston.“There are many people who believe that vaccines cause problems that are just not so.” Full story »

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Study: Flu shots safe for most egg allergic kids

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on April 12, 2010

stockphotopro_04401pun_806A recent study published in Pediatrics shows that when given in small, graded doses, flu vaccines made from chicken embryos are safe for most children with egg allergies. The study also found that skin test done prior to vaccination, which in the past have been used to test a egg allergenic child’s potential for reaction, are unnecessary–saving time and money for both patients and vaccine providers. Erica Chung, MD, a Children’s hospital staffer and co-author of the study recently took time to explain her findings for Thrive.

From the 1918 “Spanish flu,” to the 1957 “Asian flu,” and more recently, the “swine flu,” the influenza virus continues to emerge as a major public health concern. But with the development of medical advancements like the influenza vaccine program, we have seen a drop in the number of hospitalization and clinic visits during influenza season. Because the vaccine is developed in chicken embryos, however, there is some hesitancy about vaccinating egg-allergic children, despite the vaccine’s many benefits. Full story »

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