Category: Vaccines

Yesterday, Hank Green and the YouTube channel SciShow posted a particularly good video on the anti-vaccination movement. Unlike many commentators from within the science community, instead of vilifying parents who don’t get their kids vaccinated – or are hesitant about doing so – Green takes a science-grounded look at why people reject vaccines.

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Yesterday, I posted a piece examining the oft-quoted mortality rate for measles of one to two deaths per thousand cases of infection.  Today, I want to look at what can be learned from more recent and more comprehensive dataset – this one from the 2008-2011 measles outbreak in France. In the early 2000’s, measles was a relatively rare occurrence in France.  From 2008 to 2011 though, there was a dramatic increase in cases – peaking at over 3,000 new cases per month being recorded in 2011.  Because the outbreak occurred in a developed country where the disease was no longer considered a pressing pubic health issue, it provides a unique opportunity to estimate mortality rates following infection by the virus in economies with robust healthcare systems. In 2013, Denise Antona and co-authors published a comprehensive assessment of the outbreak in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.   Over the four year study period, there were 22,178 documented cases of measles.  11.6% of cases (2,582) involved complications , including pneumonia (1,375 cases, 6.2%), acute otitis media (321 cases, 1.4%), and hepatitis or pancreatitis (248 cases, 1.1%). According to the paper’s authors, diarrhea was reported in 100 cases (0.4%). Overall, there were ten deaths reported (0.05%). The data are particularly useful for examining morbidity and mortality rates associated with measles in a developed country like France, as with the relative novelty of the disease, the number of reported cases is likely to have been substantially higher than in earlier decades when the disease was commonplace. In table 1 below (based on Antona et al.’s paper), the number of measles-related complications per 10,000 cases of infection is given for different health impacts and age ranges, based on individuals who were hospitalized. Focusing specifically on mortality, the overall rate was 4.5 deaths per 10,000 documented cases of

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If you catch measles, what are your chances of dying? When I was a kid, measles was one of those things you were expected to catch.  I had it when I was five, and must confess, I don’t remember much about the experience.  I do remember being confined to bed.  And I also remember being told that measles could cause blindness – as a budding reader, this scared me.  But I don’t recall anyone hinting at anything worse.  If my parents were worried, they didn’t show it. And I’d certainly never heard of kids who had died – even in playground rumors. So as the current outbreak of measles in the US continues to spread, I’ve been intrigued by statements that the disease has a mortality rate of somewhere between one and three young children per thousand infected. Of course I know as a public health academic that measles is highly infectious and can cause severe harm – even death.  But there was a dissonance between what I was reading and what I felt was correct. Surely if one out of every few hundred kids died as a result of measles as I was growing up, I’d have got wind of it? The mortality rate of around 1 in 1000 though comes with a sound provenance.  It’s there in black and white on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web pages: “For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it” A 2004 review in the Journal of Infectious Diseases provides further insight.  Using CDC data on reported measles cases in the US between 1989 and 2000,Orenstein, Perry and Halsey indicated that approximately three children under the age of five died for every thousand that caught measles, and that the overall mortality rate for all ages was also around 3 per thousand people infected – the table below gives the

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A few weeks ago I talked with Katie Wells at Michigan Radio about why some people are reluctant to get flu shots – myself included up to last year. The interview was rebroadcast on Marketplace this last week, and can be heard here: The prompt for the story was this video I made back in 2013 about getting my annual flu shot:  

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If you hadn’t noticed, today’s Google doodle celebrates the 100 year anniversary of Jonas Salk’s birth – Salk pioneered the first successful inactivated virus based vaccine for Polio. As The Guardian reminds us, it’s a good reminder of the power of vaccines.  It’s also a timely reminder of the importance of public health in our daily lives. And a quick University of Michigan factoid: Jonas Salk’s first introduction to virology was in the laboratory of University of Michigan School of Public Health professor Thomas Francis – the person who was to announce the successful vaccine to the world on April 12 1955 – also at the University of Michigan. I think this is where I’m supposed to say “Go Blue!”

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September was a busy month at the Risk Science Center. To coincide with NOVA’s new documentary Vaccines – Calling The Shots, we’ve posted a number pieces on the topic of vaccines.  Nanotechnology has also featured prominently, with a new article in Nature Nanotechnology on fumed silica in food products, and the announcement that I will be working with the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on nanotechnology for the next two years. We’ve also posted links to new articles on noise and health and BRCA screening.  And of course I had the surprise of being listed as one of Science Magazine’s top 50 scientists on Twitter!  You can read the full monthly update here. More importantly though, we now have two ways in which you can keep even more up to date with what we’re doing here: 1.  Join the Risk Science Center email list – we’ll send you monthly updates on all the cool and exciting stuff that’s going on here.   2.  Subscribe to this website, and be the first to hear when new articles are posted – over the past month we’ve covered everything from breast cancer screening and perceived risks of vaccines to effective science communication.   Both are well worth the price 🙂

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Measles is one of the leading causes of death amongst children worldwide.  In 2012, an estimated 122,000 people died of the disease according to the World Health Organization – equivalent to 14 deaths every hour.  Yet talk to parents about this highly infectious disease, and the response is often a resounding “meh”.  Why is this?   University of Michigan Professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher explores this in the latest video from Risk Bites – at under 3 minutes long, it’s a fantastic introduction to why seemingly rational people sometimes behave the way they do toward vaccines. According to Zikmund-Fisher, how we think about infectious diseases and risk is governed in part by the way our memories and feelings inform our perceptions – this is referred to by psychologists as the “availability heuristic”.  It turns out that when we try and figure out how rare or common a disease is, we try to think of people we have heard of who have had it.  If we know of people, we’re pre-programmed to feel more at risk than if we don’t.  And surprisingly, the statistics – the actual numbers of people who get sick – don’t seem to matter. You can watch Brian’s video and others on the science behind human health risks at youtube.com/riskbites.  Brian can also be seen talking about risk, feelings and vaccines in the new NOVA documentary Vaccines – Calling The Shots, airing Wednesday September 10 at 9:30/8:30C. Image: Sixteenth century Aztec drawing of a measles victim.  Source: (2009) Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future, Oxford University Press, USA, p. 144 ISBN: 0-19-532731-4.  

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On April 12 1955, the world was informed that the Salk polio vaccine was up to 90% effective in preventing paralytic polio.  At the time, it was hailed as one of the most anticipated announcements in medical history, and led to the overcoming of one of the most feared infectious diseases in American History. In the five years leading up to the announcement, there were an estimated 25,000 cases of paralytic polio per year in America. In 1969, not a single death from polio was reported in the US. The Polio Vaccine and the University of Michigan While the first polio vaccine – using an inactivated virus – was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh, the announcement was made in the University of Michigan Rackham Auditorium by director of the University of Michigan School of Public Health Poliomyelitis Vaccine Evaluation Center director, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. In the upcoming NOVA Special on vaccines (Vaccines – Calling The Shots, airing 9/8 central, September 10 on PBS), footage of that 1955 announcement features prominently.   And through some smart editing, it is juxtaposed with an interview with U-M School of Public Health professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher, sitting in the same auditorium 59 years later, talking about current challenges around vaccines and infectious diseases. The Big House Brian, an expert in risk and decisions, features prominently in the documentary, including a sequence shot in the midst of 100,000 football fans in the Michigan Big House (although you’ll have to watch the documentary to discover why). Speaking as a University of Michigan professor in the School of Public Health, the Michigan connection is clearly important in my totally unbiased opinion (did someone say “Go Blue!”?).  What is more important though is the inclusive and sensitive approach to vaccines and infectious diseases this documentary promises to bring to the issue. Going by the

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Leading up to the new NOVA Special on vaccines (Vaccines – Calling The Shots, airing September 10th, 9:00 PM on PBS), the University of Michigan Risk Science Center be reposting a series of pieces that tackle some of the issues around vaccination, acceptance, anxiety and risk. Each week day between September 2 and September 10, look for a new vaccine-related article on the Risk Science Center website.  We’ll be covering everything from story telling around vaccines, to disease-specific vaccinations, to the importance of understanding and respecting patient concerns. The series of articles will draw heavily on Professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher, who also features prominently in the NOVA documentary.  And we’ll be culminating on the 10th with a brand new Risk Bites video from Brian on why people tend not to be as worried as they should be about infectious diseases. So remember to check out what’s new each day at riskscience.umich.edu starting September 2, and don’t forget to watch the documentary on the 10th.

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NOVA has a one hour special on child vaccination coming out on September 10th, which is sure to stimulate some heated conversation around the topic.  It also features heavily University of Michigan School of Public Health decision-analysis expert Brian Zikmund-Fisher – who also leads the Risk Science Center Risk Communication initiative.

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2020 Science is published by Andrew Maynard - Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. More ... 

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