Stories about: vaccination

Measles numbers multiply, myths linger

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.

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Recognizing the symptoms of meningitis

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.

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Is the HPV vaccine dangerous?

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.

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

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.

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