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Saturday, August 26, 2017

HPV vaccine concerns

The large majority of the parents who bring their children to my office want their children to be vaccinated against any disease we can protect them against. The HPV vaccine is one exception. While most of my patients are given the Gardasil at their 11 or 12 year check up, some parents still "want to do their research" or "have heard things" so they decline to protect their kids at those visits. Sadly they often return year after year and say that they still haven't done their research, so their child remains unprotected. Sometimes they'll say that they will let their child decide at 18 years of age. Sadly, by that age many will have already been infected.



I recently had a parent share HPV Vaccine: Panacea or Pandora’s Box? The Costs and Deceptiveness of the New Technology with me. She had concerns based on the information in this article. The first thing I noted was that it is from 2011. This is outdated, since we have learned so much in the six years since it was published, yet like many anti-vax articles, it continues to circulate online.

 The first argument is that it won’t last long enough. 
It is therefore possible that the protective effects of the vaccination will wane at the time when women are most susceptible to the oncogenic effects of the virus (those over 30), providing protection to those who do not need it (adolescents) and failing to provide protection to those who do (women over 30).
Studies show protection lasts 10 years and hasn’t dropped by that time. If future studies show a booster is needed, we can add that. That in no way should mean to not give protection for the years it is really needed – adolescence and young adult life. I cannot agree with the statement that providing protection "to those who do not need it (adolescents)" at all. Yes teens need protection. I'll get more into their risks below. And the fact that women over 30 are more likely to develop the cancer does not mean that is when they come into contact with the virus. It's kind of like saying that kids don't need to brush their teeth because they don't have cavities. If you wait for the cavities to develop, it's too late!

The second argument is based on old version of the vaccine. We now use the 9 valent variety, which covers the large majority of cancer causing strains. Again, even if there are other strains, why not protect against what we have?

The argument that natural immunity will last longer than the vaccine immunity is not a valid argument. Natural immunity can wane with some diseases too, and if we can protect against the disease, it is preferable. Boosters for many vaccines are needed when we know immunity wanes. That’s okay. Some parents advocate to not vaccinate and get the real disease. When their kids get whooping cough they’re miserable. Many are hospitalized. Some even die. I’d rather do boosters! (This may be a bad example because I don’t think our booster for whooping cough lasts long enough and there are complications with giving boosters more often, but ongoing surveillance and research will continue and hopefully improve the situation.)

The cost issue is interesting. If it was not cost effective in the long run, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for it. It’s that simple. They’ve done the math. Australia is a great example. Their cancer rates are down because HPV is a mandatory vaccine. 

The risks listed have all been shown to not be as risky as once shown.

The article also alludes to this being a sexually transmitted disease so we can just teach abstinence until marriage. There are so many things wrong with this. First, this virus can spread through non-intercourse activities, which can be part of a normal and healthy teen relationship. Second, even if your child is a virgin at marriage, their spouse might not be. Or the spouse could die and they remarry. Or there could be infidelity in marriage. There may not be signs of this virus during an infection. Testing for HPV is recommended for women over 30 years of age, but is not available for men at any age, so teens and young adults will not know if they have the virus or not. And we know that abstinence only teaching fails. Some people raised in strict Christian households have sex outside of marriage. Teaching kids to protect themselves is much more effective to prevent many sexually transmitted infections, but condoms don't always protect against HPV transmission.  And there’s always rape. One out of four women has been sexually assaulted. One in four! What a horrible thing to be raped. Then to find out you get cancer from that…

They argue it hasn’t been tested in males. It has. And it cuts cancer rates in men too. They’re not just vectors as stated in the article.

This article is several years old. It didn’t yet know that the cancer rates in Australia would fall like we now know. We’ve learned much more information than they knew in 2011 when it was written. We know the HPV vaccine is safe. It is best given before the teen years to induce the best immune response and to get kids protected before the risk of catching the virus becomes more likely. It isn’t a lifestyle choice to get this virus, as it seems the author claims. People have sex. This virus and other infections can spread through sex. But this virus is also spread without intercourse (such as through oral sex or skin to skin contact without sex), which is why 80% of the adult population has had the virus at some point.

Someone You Love is a documentary that follows several women with HPV related cancer. If you still think the vaccine isn't worth it for your child, watch it. I am not paid in any way to recommend this. It simply is a powerful documentary that shows the devastation of HPV disease and you should see that before saying your child doesn't need protection.

I strongly feel this is a safe and effective vaccine. So much so that my own teens received three doses of the original Gardasil and one dose of Gardasil 9 despite no official recommendations for this booster. I want to protect them in any way that I can. If I had any concerns about its safety I would not have given it to my own children. I don't think I can list any study or give any argument stronger than that.



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tamiflu status downgraded!

Those of you who follow my blog or are my patients know that I've never been a fan of Tamiflu. I've written To Tamiflu or Not To Tamiflu and I've posted Tamiflu from guest blogger, Dr. Mark Helm. Despite the CDC's recommendation to use Tamiflu frequently, I rarely prescribe it. And when I do, I often find that the whole course isn't completed because the kids don't tolerate it well - usually vomiting, but occasionally they've had scary hallucinations. I haven't seen very much benefit, especially given the cost (and often the difficulty of finding it during peak flu season).



The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently downgraded the status of Tamiflu. The CDC and FDA will have to chime in for the US recommendations, but the WHO is a respected source of medical guidelines and I look forward to a response from the CDC.

As I've said before, Tamiflu doesn't seem to work as well as needed and it has significant side effects. Not all studies done on Tamiflu were published. Only studies showing a little benefit and minimal side effects were considered in making the recommendations to use it. If many studies show no benefit but aren't published, it makes it seem better than it is. Most studies are done in adults, but studies in children for prevention of flu and treatment of flu also fail to show much benefit.

A 2013 review of all the studies done in adults found only a 20.7 hour reduction in symptoms (yes, less than one day). In the elderly and those with chronic diseases (among the highest risk adults) no reduction was found. They also found no evidence of decreasing the risks of pneumonia, hospital admission, or complications requiring an antibiotic. This same review also showed more side effects than commonly reported. Nausea, vomiting, and psychiatric side effects are common.

I hope that the CDC reviews its recommendations for antiviral use before the influenza season hits this year. Until then, plan on getting your family protected with the flu vaccine. It isn't perfect, but it does help keep us from getting sick and it can help save lives!

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's Back to School Time, Time to Think Safety!

Walking to school is wonderful for kids because they get exercise, which can help with focus at school and their overall health. It can be also be a time to talk with friends or family and build community bonds.

But it also can pose dangers, especially if drivers are distracted talking to their own children or texting. Please stop texting and driving. Don't touch your phone at all while driving. Calls and texts can wait. If they can't, pull over and check the message while parked. Really.



Talk to your kids about safety.

  • Kids should walk with an adult until they show the maturity to walk safely without direct supervision. The specific age will depend on the area as well as the child's maturity. Are there safe sidewalks? Are there busy roads to cross? Are there other kids walking the same route? Are there homes along the way they can go to in case of emergency? How long is the walk?
  • Find the safest route: Choose sidewalks wherever possible, even if that means the trip will be longer. If there are no sidewalks, walk as far from vehicles as possible, on the side of the street facing traffic. If possible, avoid areas near high schools, where there are more teen drivers.
  • Cross streets safely. If there are crossing guards, use those intersections. If there are street lights, wait until the "walk" symbol appears. Never cross in the middle of a block, use intersections. Look both ways twice before crossing. Do not text or play games when in the street. 
  • Remind kids that if they are crossing a street, they should make eye contact with a stopped driver before crossing, even if there's a "walk" symbol. Drivers turning right might turn on red and not notice small pedestrians.
  • Teach kids to use the same route every day or discuss which route they will take each day if they use different routes. If they don't arrive to school or home as planned, you know the route to search. Walk the routes with them until they know how to safely navigate each.
  • Have kids stay in groups or with a walking buddy as much as possible. 
  • Avoid distractions. Listening to music (especially with earbuds), playing video games, watching videos, and texting all keep kids from paying attention to their surroundings. Even talking on the phone is distracting, so don't assume they are safer if they talk to you all the way home when you're at work. They are more likely to trip and fall, step into a street without looking first, or not notice that they're being followed if they're distracted. They should be aware of their surroundings at all times.
  • Remind kids to never accept a ride from anyone unless you pre-plan it. Rain, snow, and cold weather make it tempting to hop in a car, so have kids dress appropriately for the weather and arrange safe rides as needed. 
  • Have kids keep important contact information in their backpacks in case of emergency. At least two people should be on this list. People on the list could include a parent, grandparent, or trusted adult friend/neighbor. Names and phone numbers should be included.
  • Related: If they are riding a bike, scooter, or skateboard to school, they should follow the rules of the road and proper safety.
See if your school can help arrange walking buses, where kids all walk the same route to school with adult walk leaders.

Suggestions for adults:

  • Be extra cautious when driving in the before and after school times, especially near schools and in neighborhoods.
  • Be nice and don't use your sprinklers in the before and after school times so kids can stay on the sidewalks and not wander into the street to avoid getting wet.
  • Never text and drive. Put your phone on silent and in a place you can't reach it while driving. Texts can wait.
  • If kids are in your car, make sure they are properly buckled. Only teens and adults should be in the front seat. Use an appropriate car seat or booster seat. Kids shouldn't wear their backpack in the car, nor should they unbuckle while in a drop off line to get their backpack on before the car is stopped. 
  • If your kids will carpool with other families, be sure they are in proper seats at all times. It's tempting to not use boosters for short drives, but it's never safe to have kids improperly restrained. Find boosters that are easy to move between cars.

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