Archive for January, 2011

Mass Cholera Vaccination Early In Outbreak Could Stem Spread Of Disease, Studies Show

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 (last updated)

“The cholera bacterium has undergone important mutations in recent years, causing longer outbreaks of the disease with increased fatalities, researchers reported on Wednesday,” Reuters reports. “In a package of papers published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, they said mass vaccinations should be considered as a solution even after outbreaks have begun,” the news service writes.

“Although easily administered oral vaccines exist, public health officials typically don’t vaccinate against cholera in the throes of an outbreak because medical workers have their hands full rehydrating patients who have come down with the diarrheal disease,” Science News writes.

In recent months, the debate over how useful a cholera vaccine can be during an outbreak has “reignited,” as experts try to slow the spread of the disease in Haiti, which to date has sickened some 105,000 and killed more than 2,000, Reuters writes.

“Caused by a water-borne bacteria called vibrio cholera, [cholera] is transmitted when contaminated human fecal matter gets into water, food or onto someone’s hands” – a particular “challenge to countries without safe drinking water and adequate sanitation,” Reuters continues. While the symptoms from the disease can kill some within hours, others “show no symptoms but can pass the bacterium further”.

In an effort to assess how a cholera vaccine could have affected the outcome of previous cholera outbreaks, “scientists collected information from three regions where cholera has struck in the past 15 years – Zimbabwe, Zanzibar and India,” and used a computer model to predict outcomes of an early vaccine effort, Science News writes of one of the studies published in the journal.

Rotavirus Vaccine Significantly Cuts Child Hospitalizations, Study Says

Monday, January 24th, 2011 (last updated)

Developing and developed countries that require children to be vaccinated against rotavirus “have significantly reduced the number of children admitted to hospitals with the disease, a report showed on Thursday,” Reuters reports. Study findings, published in a special supplement to the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, note significant declines “in the number of children hospitalized due to rotavirus in countries that include rotavirus vaccines as part of their routine immunization programs,” according to a press release issued by CDC, the GAVI Alliance, PAHO and PATH. “Since introducing the vaccine in 2006, the United States has seen a 58 to 86 percent reduction in such hospitalizations over three years, said the study. In Australia, there was a bigger decline of 89 to 94 percent since 2007, and El Salvador saw a 69 to 81 percent drop in hospital visits among children under five. Mexico, which introduced the vaccine in 2007, saw a 40 percent drop in diarrhea-related hospitalizations in 2009,” Agence France-Presse reports. The studies “also show large reductions in rotavirus disease among older, unvaccinated children, suggesting that vaccination of babies may also limit the overall amount of virus transmission, giving what is known as ‘herd immunity,'” according to Reuters. “In both the developed and developing worlds, we see a rapid and impressive reduction in rotavirus infections following the roll-out of vaccine,” said John Wecker, director of the vaccine access and delivery global program at PATH. He said the findings should encourage donors and lawmakers to implement the 2009 WHO recommendation, which called for all countries to develop national rotavirus vaccine programs. The CDC’s Anne Schuchat praised the vaccine for being “safe, effective and most importantly, saving children’s lives,” AFP writes. “Unfortunately, too many children around the world get severely ill or die from this preventable disease. We must continue to expand our efforts to ensure that children around the world have access to these vaccines,” she said.

Pakistan launches polio vaccination drives

Monday, January 24th, 2011 (last updated)

To reverse an alarming surge of polio cases, Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, is launching an emergency drive to immunize 32 million children.

Under the plan, to be launched this week, police and paramilitary soldiers will protect teams of vaccinators in some of the most dangerous areas of the country, according to the Guardian.

Bill Gates, who met Zardari in Washington last week, pledged to fund the effort with a $65 million donation from the Gates Foundation.

The polio crisis in Pakistan is one of the last hurdles in a campaign by the World Health Organization that has lasted for 23 years. In other areas, doctors are close to eradicating the crippling disease, but in Pakistan, infection rates have actually gone up by 65 percent, the Guardian reports.

A major cause behind the increase was last summer’s floods, which displaced millions across the countryside. The principal cause, however, is thought to be the war with the Taliban in the northwest.

With missile strikes and Taliban attacks, vaccinations in the area have all but stopped. Fighters have killed health workers and Mullahs have denounced the vaccine as part of an anti-Muslim plot to sterilize children.

The northwest tribal belt accounted for half of all infections in Pakistan, according to the Guardian. It is worried that the disease will spread from there to places where it was already thought to be eradicated.

In Karachi, a city of 18 million, health officials had reported no infections but, in December, two cases were found. The new cases were seen as disaster because it is believed that for every polio case found in Pakistan, there are 200 that have yet to be found.

Half of Americans still distrust vaccin

Friday, January 21st, 2011 (last updated)

Only half of Americans are confident in their belief that vaccines do not play a role in the development of autism, a new poll has revealed.

According to the poll, the other half say that they believe in a connection or are not sure either way, according to

The Harris Interactive and HealthDay produced poll demonstrates just how pervasive the fear is of an autism and vaccine link.

Out of 2,026 adults surveyed, 52 percent said that they believe vaccines do not cause autism. Of the remaining 48 percent, 18 percent said that they believe vaccines are a cause of the disorder. Thirty percent confessed that they are uncertain, reports.

The survey comes only weeks after an investigation by the British Medical Journal concluded that the research first suggesting a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR vaccine, was nothing more than an elaborate fraud that the author, Andrew Wakefield, crafted to secure financial gains.

The original study, conducted by Wakefield, was published in the journal the Lancet. Last year, that publication retracted the study and Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice in the United Kingdom.

Of those polled, 64 percent said that they were familiar with the Wakefield study, but only 47 percent were aware that the study had been retracted.

Malaria vaccine cuts risk by 46 percent after 15 months

Monday, January 17th, 2011 (last updated)

A study funded by GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative in Maryland has found that Glaxo’s experimental malaria vaccine Mosquirix can cut the risk of malaria by 46 percent up to 15 months after the shot.

A December 2008 study found similar results, with malaria in infected children reduced by 53 percent eight months after administering the vaccine. The results are encouraging and may lead to one of the first effective malaria vaccine shots, Bloomberg reports.

“We’ve never had a malaria vaccine get this far in its development and continue to show such promise,” Robert Newman, director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Program said during a telephone interview, according to Bloomberg. “It’s promising and encouraging.”

Malaria infected close to 225 million people and led to the deaths of approximately 781,000 people in 2009, with the majority of those deaths by children in sub-Saharan Africa. These numbers make malaria the third-most deadly infectious disease in the world behind only AIDS and tuberculosis.

The study was conducted on over 800 children between the age of five and 17 months in Tanzania and Kenya.

Glaxo projects that it will have the results of final-stage trials by late 2011 or early 2012. The WHO wishes to wait on effectiveness data of the vaccine for 30 months before it makes a decision on a policy recommendation for the vaccine in 2014

Shingles Vaccine Linked To 55 Per Cent Reduction In Disease

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 (last updated)

Giving people the herpes zoster vaccine was linked to a 55 per cent reduction in risk of developing shingles according to a Kaiser Permanente study involving 300,000 older American GP patients, suggesting that vaccinating eligible people could prevent tens of thousands of cases of shingles in the US.

You can read about the retrospective cohort study, led by Dr Hung Fu Tseng, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Department of Research and Evaluation in Pasadena, California, in the 12 January online issue of JAMA.

The findings support the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that the vaccine be offered to eligible patients of all ages, including those over 75.

Tseng told the press that:

“Our study shows the vaccine has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of cases of shingles, a painful, lingering disease.”

“We suggest clinicians follow the CDC’s recommendations to talk to their patients about the option of vaccination against this serious condition,” said Tseng.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster), which stays dormant in the nervous system after a person has recovered from chickenpox, but then flares up again, often many years later, as a painful skin rash with blisters, usually in a line on one side of the torso.

There are more than a million cases of shingles every year in the US. The condition affects mainly older people, as immunity against the virus declines; but it can also affect people under a lot of stress or who have weakened immunity. The condition can last months, even years, and seriously impair quality of life. It can also damage the nerves.

The herpes zoster vaccine has demonstrated efficacy against shingles in clinical trials, but has not been tested under everyday conditions such as in general practices.

Using electronic health records, Tseng and colleagues compared the incidence of shingles among a diverse population of 75,761 vaccinated, and 227,283 unvaccinated, men and women aged 60 and over who were members of Kaiser Permanente in Southern California between 2007 and 2009. The participants were community-dwelling, had healthy immune systems and those who were vaccinated had received their vaccine in a GP setting.

The results showed a significant reduced risk of shingles across all sub-groups, including healthy patients and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart, lung or kidney diseases.

The results remained the same after the researchers took into account differences in gender, race, chronic diseases and prior use.

British Medical Journal Declares MMR Study ‘an Elaborate Fraud’ – Autism Claims Likened to ‘Piltdown Man’ Hoax

Thursday, January 6th, 2011 (last updated)

The British Medical Journal has declared the 1998 Lancet paper that implied a link between the MMR vaccine and autism “an elaborate fraud.

Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ Editor in Chief says “the MMR scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud” and that such “clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.”

She is struck by a comparison between researcher Andrew Wakefield’s fraud and Piltdown man, that great paleontological hoax that led people to believe for 40 years that the missing link between man and ape had been found.

She also questions the veracity of Wakefield’s other publications and calls for an investigation “to decide whether any others should be retracted.”

A series of three articles starting this week reveal the true extent of the scam behind the scare. The series is based on interviews, documents and data, collected during seven years of inquiries by award-winning investigative journalist Brian Deer.

Thanks to the recent publication of the General Medical Council’s six million word transcript, the BMJ was able to peer-review and check Deer’s findings and confirm extensive falsification in the Lancet paper.

In an editorial, Dr Godlee, together with deputy BMJ editor Jane Smith, and leading paediatrician and associate BMJ editor Harvey Marcovitch, conclude that there is “no doubt” that it was Wakefield who perpetrated this fraud. They say: “A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.”

Yet he has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong at all, they add. “Instead, although now disgraced and stripped of his clinical and academic credentials, he continues to push his views. Meanwhile the damage to public health continues.”

“Science is based on trust,” concludes Dr Godlee. “Such a breach of trust is deeply shocking. And even though almost certainly rare on this scale, it raises important questions about how this could happen, what could have been done to uncover it earlier, what further inquiry is now needed, and what can be done to prevent something like this happening again.