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Immunology, In the News, Infectious Disease, Parenting, Pediatrics, Public Health

Side effects of childhood vaccines are extremely rare, new study finds

Side effects of childhood vaccines are extremely rare, new study finds

Pneumococcus-vaccineAs you may have heard about elsewhere, a new paper published today on the safety of childhood vaccines provides reassurance for parents and pediatricians that side effects from vaccination are rare and mostly transient. The paper, a meta-analysis appearing in Pediatrics, updates a 2011 Institute of Medicine report on childhood vaccine safety. It analyzed the results of 67 safety studies of vaccines used in the United States for children aged 6 and younger.

“There are no surprises here; vaccines are being shown over and over again to be quite safe,” said Cornelia Dekker, MD, medical director of the vaccine program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, who chatted with me about the study earlier today. “The safety record for our U.S.-licensed vaccines is excellent. There are a few vaccines for which they document that there are indeed adverse events, but the frequency is quite rare, and in almost all cases they are very easy to manage and self-limited.”

A Pediatrics commentary (.pdf) accompanying the new study puts the value of immunization in context:

Modeling of vaccine impact demonstrates that routine childhood immunizations in the 2009 US birth cohort would prevent ~42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease and save $13.5 billion in direct health care costs and $68.8 billion in societal costs.

The commentary goes on to contrast the risks of vaccines with the potential complications of vaccine-preventable diseases:

The adverse events identified by the authors were rare and in most cases would be expected to resolve completely after the adverse event. This contrasts starkly with the natural infections that vaccines are designed to prevent, which may reduce the quality of life through permanent morbidities, such as blindness, deafness, developmental delay, epilepsy, or paralysis and may also result in death.

The study found evidence against suspected links between vaccines and several acute and chronic diseases. For instance, the researchers found high-quality evidence that several different vaccines are not linked to childhood leukemia and that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is not linked to autism. The DTaP vaccine is not linked to diabetes mellitus, and the Hepatitis B vaccine is not connected to multiple sclerosis, according to moderate-quality evidence.

The evidence does connect a few vaccines to side effects. For instance, the MMR, pneumococcal conjugate 13 and influenza vaccines are linked to small risks of febrile seizures, with the risk of such seizures increasing slightly if the PCV-13 and flu vaccines are given together.

“A febrile seizure can be quite alarming, but fortunately it does not have long-lasting consequences for child,” Dekker said, noting that the risk of such seizures from vaccines is around a dozen per 100,000 doses of vaccine administered.

The rotavirus vaccine is linked to risk of intussusception, an intestinal problem that can also occur with rotavirus infection itself. But the benefits of rotavirus vaccination “clearly outweigh the small additional risk,” Dekker said.

The study confirmed earlier research showing that some vaccines, including MMR and varicella, cause problems for immunocompromised children, such as kids who have HIV or who have received organ transplants. Since they can’t safely receive vaccines, this group of children relies on the herd immunity of their community to protect them.

“It’s not as if the parents of immunocompromised kids have a choice about whether to vaccinate,” Dekker told me. “They have to depend on others to keep immunization levels high, and that starts breaking down when more people hold back from having their healthy kids fully immunized.”

Dekker hopes the new findings will encourage more parents to have their healthy kids fully vaccinated.

Previously: Measles is disappearing from the Western hemisphere, Measles are on the rise; now’s the time to vaccinate, says infectious-disease expert and Tips for parents on back-to-school vaccinations
Photo by Gates Foundation

Global Health, Public Health, Stanford News

NIH Director “particularly impressed by the practicality” of Stanford-developed Foldscope

During the White House’s first-ever Maker Faire, Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, was among those vying for a chance to test out a Foldscope, the 50-cent origami microscope invented by Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD. In a post published yesterday on his blog, Collins said, “While I saw many amazing inventions and met many incredible inventors at this event, I came away particularly impressed by the practicality of this device and the ingenuity of its maker.”

Collins goes on to explain the design components of the Foldscope, his experience testing out the device and Prakash’s plans to open up the wonders of the microscopic world to future generations of scientists and engineers. He writes in the piece:

So, how do you use the Foldscope? It turns out that this bookmark-size device uses the same glass slides that one uses in a regular microscope. So, the preparation of blood or tissue samples remain the same. In the simplest version of the scope, the slide is inserted between the microscope’s paper layers and the user, with a thumb and forefinger grasping either end of the microscope strip, holds the lens close to one eye and flexes the strip to find the target object and bring it into focus. I had the chance to try this at the White House event, and found that learning how to use it is very easy. In more advanced versions, the device can project the image onto a wall or any other flat surface—a great, low-cost tool for educating healthcare workers and others in low-income nations about various infectious diseases.

Prakash is currently fine-tuning Foldscopes so they can be field tested in Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, and Peru for diagnosis of malaria, microfilariasis, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, and sleeping sickness. His team at Stanford is also busy designing Foldscopes to help diagnose 30 other diseases, and drawing up plans for a next generation of Foldscopes that will utilize microfluidic components rather than glass slides—a step that should make sample collection and analysis even easier.

Not only will Foldscope give healthcare workers around the globe better ways to detect, and thereby treat, disease, it will also place magnifying power within the reach of all the world’s students, enabling them to ask and answer a great many scientific questions. To this end, Prakash has launched the Ten Thousand Microscopes Project to entice inquiring minds to beta test these devices and design experiments that can then be compiled into a crowd-sourced microscopy text. Imagine a world in which every kid carries around a 50-cent portable microscope, and brings science out of the lab and into real-world biology.

Previously: Manu Prakash on how growing up in India influenced his interests as a Maker and entrepreneur, Dr. Prakash goes to Washington and Stanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire and The pied piper of cool science tools

Chronic Disease, Public Health, Stanford News

Stanford alums aim to bring back a community approach to treating chronic disease

Inspired by shared medical appointments and Blue Zones, areas in the world where people live measurably longer lives, fourth-year medical student Sohan Japa, MBA, and Stanford alumna Bansi Shah are striving to bring back a community approach to treating chronic disease and enable better care that is efficient and evidence-based.

Japa and Shah partnered with Stanford physician Bryant Lin, MD, earlier this year on a small study to test the effectiveness of using a private social network for diabetic patients and their care teams. Based on this pilot they developed HealthCrew, a secure online platform to help clinicians more effectively manage patient populations. In the following Q&A, Japa discusses the results from the pilot, the technology behind the platform and the next phase of the study.

What about the group health visit setting did you find particularly inspiring?

The way patients leaned on each other for support and guidance was very powerful. A doctor or nurse may remind you over and over about your diet, but when it comes from a peer, it is just much more convincing and impactful. And, every group had an unofficial leader who would do an amazing job in inspiring the group and mentoring others who may not be as empowered about the condition.

What did the preliminary results of the pilot show?

In this initial pilot, we were curious how patients would respond and whether they would see the value in it. And the overwhelming response was yes. Patient engagement and satisfaction rates were higher than we expected. We are doing a second pilot to test the results with a larger group and also start tracking the software’s impact on actual health outcomes. The participants in the initial pilot also gave us great feedback on how to make the platform even better.

Can you briefly explain how the platform works?

The platform is designed to deliver tailored education, which is something doctors don’t have time to provide in a typical 15-minute visit.

There are three key components to our platform. The first is a medical intake tool, which is able to assess a patient’s health literacy and social/emotional capacity. The second component is a content engine that takes the results of the medical intake to tailor education and materials. For example, a patient who scored low on our empowerment scale will get materials to help raise their confidence and skill set to tackle their condition. The last component of our platform is a peer-to-peer mentoring tool, which allows patients to confer securely with similar patients both online and offline.

The Affordable Care Act, in addition to healthcare reform at the state level, has put new attention on patient outcomes. Increasingly hospitals and clinics are on the hook for the health outcomes of their patients. So a platform like this is timely. Because it helps patients in between those semi annual visits they have with their doctors.

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Cancer, NIH, Public Health, Research, Stanford News, Videos

NIH associate director for data science on the importance of “data to the biomedicine enterprise”

NIH associate director for data science on the importance of "data to the biomedicine enterprise"

The 2014 Big Data in Biomedicine conference was held here last month, and interviews with keynote speakers, panelists, moderators and attendees are now available on the Stanford Medicine YouTube channel. To continue the discussion of how big data can be harnessed to benefit human health, we’ll be featuring a selection of the videos this month on Scope.

During his keynote speech at Big Data in Biomedicine 2014, Philip Bourne, PhD, the first permanent associate director for data science at the National Institutes of Health, shared how the federal agency hopes to capitalize on big data to accelerate biomedicine discovery, address scientific questions with potential societal benefit and promote open science.

In the above video, he talks about how data “is becoming increasingly important to the biomedical enterprise” and the NIH’s effort to coordinate strategies related to computation and informatics in biomedicine across its 27 institutes and centers, which effectively form the basis of improvements in health care across every major medical condition. “Our goal is to create interoperability between these entities,” he says in the interview. “We see data as the catalyst to create this cross talk across these respective institutes.”

Previously: Rising to the challenge of harnessing big data to benefit patients, Discussing access and transparency of big data in government and U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in Biomedicine

Public Health, Research, Science, Stanford News

John Ioannidis discusses the popularity of his paper examining the reliability of scientific research

Back in August 2005, Stanford professor John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, published “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” in PLOS Medicine. The article surpassed one million views last April and, as recently reported in a Q&A on the journal’s Speaking of Medicine blog, it’s “the first PLOS article – research or other – to reach this milestone.”

In the interview, Ioannidis, co-director of the new Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford, discusses his motivation for writing about the issue and why he believes the article has remained relevant over the years. On the topic of the most surprising result or outcome of the paper, he says:

Possibly the most unexpected corollary is that more popular research fields are less credible. Several people have misunderstood this statement. This corollary holds when scientists work in silos, and each one is trying to outpace the others, finding significance in his/her own results without sharing and combining information.

The opposite holds true when scientists join forces to examine the cumulative evidence. Sadly, in most fields the siloed investigator writing grants where he promises that he/she alone will discover something worthy of the Nobel Prize is still the dominant paradigm. This sort of principal investigator culture is a problem, especially for popular fields where the literature is flooded with tens of thousands of irreproducible papers.

Previously: A discussion on the reliability of scientific research, New Stanford center aims to promote research excellence, The Lancet documents waste in research, proposes solutions and “U.S. effect” leads to publication of biased research, says Stanford’s John Ioannidis

Big data, Obesity, Pregnancy, Public Health, Women's Health

Maternal obesity linked to earliest premature births, says Stanford study

Maternal obesity linked to earliest premature births, says Stanford study

preemiefeetExpectant mothers who are obese before they become pregnant are at increased risk of delivering a very premature baby, according to a new study of nearly 1,000,000 California births.

The study, which appears in the July issue of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, is part of a major research effort by the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine to understand why 450,000 U.S. babies are being born too early each year. Figuring out what causes preterm birth is the first step in understanding how to prevent it, but in many cases, physicians have no idea why a pregnant woman went into labor early.

The new study focused on preterm deliveries of unknown cause, starting from a database of nearly every California birth between January 2007 and December 2009 to examine singleton pregnancies where the mother did not have any illnesses known to be associated with prematurity.

The researchers found a link between mom’s obesity and the earliest premature births, those that happen before 28 weeks, or about six months, of pregnancy. The obesity-prematurity connection was  stronger for first-time moms than for women having their second or later child. Maternal obesity was not linked with preterm deliveries that happen between 28 and 37 weeks of the 40-week gestation period.

From our press release about the research:

“Until now, people have been thinking about preterm birth as one condition, simply by defining it as any birth that happens at least three weeks early,” said Gary Shaw, DrPH, professor of pediatrics and the lead author of the new research. “But it’s not as simple as that. Preterm birth is not one construct; gestational age matters.”

The researchers plan to investigate which aspects of obesity might trigger very early labor. For example, Shaw said, the inflammatory state seen in the body in obesity might be a factor, though more work is needed to confirm this.

Previously: How Stanford researchers are working to understand the complexities of preterm birth, A look at the world’s smallest preterm babies and New research center aims to understand premature birth
Photo by Evelyn

Health and Fitness, Health Disparities, Public Health, Technology

Creating safer neighborhoods for healthier lifestyles

hoodWalking sounds like a simple path to maintaining a healthy weight if you can’t afford a gym membership. But what if your neighborhood isn’t a safe space to walk or jog, or for your kids to play? Abby King, PhD, and scientists from Stanford Prevention Research Center‘s Healthy Aging Research and Technology Solutions lab have been working with residents of North Fair Oaks, Calif., to understand which environmental factors contribute to or detract from a healthy-living environment.

Participants used a GPS-powered Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool to survey the streets where they lived and provide information about which areas most need improvement in order to facilitate physical activity. During 36-minute walks, the middle-school-aged and older-adult participants collectively provided 224 audio and video recordings of their environment.

The low-income community of North Fair Oaks comprises 73 percent Latino residents. An article in Salud America! Growing Healthy Change reports:

“There are a lot of issues and challenges in the area,” [Priscilla Padilla-Romero, MPH, a public health educator at the Fair Oaks Center and a study author] said. “New immigrants face substantial challenges on a daily basis such as high unemployment rates, and significant social stressors.” Additionally, [Lisa Goldman Rosas, PhD, MPH] mentioned that, “Many immigrants point out that their lifestyles were naturally more active in their countries of origin and when they move to the US they have to think about how to get more physical activity for the first time.”

Among the findings, the piece notes:

The features that were reported as being facilitators of physical activity by the greatest number of participants were:

  • Having amenities and destinations to walk to
  • The presence of good quality sidewalks
  • The presence of parks, playgrounds and crosswalks
  • The aesthetic feel of the neighborhood (for example, attractive plants and well maintained homes)

The features that were reported as being barriers to physical activity by the greatest number of participants were:

  • Poor quality sidewalks
  • Trash and illegal dumping
  • Personal safety

At a June meeting with county officials the study participants, termed “citizen scientists,” discussed which factors of their environment were the greatest barriers to physical activity, hoping to influence local policy and strengthen their community.

Previously: Moderate exercise program for older adults reduces mobility disability, study showsHelp from a virtual friend goes a long way in boosting older adults’ physical activity and What type of smartphone apps are effective for promoting healthy habits among older adults?
Photo by Jukie Bot

Addiction, FDA, Health Policy, otolaryngology, Public Health

How e-cigarettes are sparking a new wave of tobacco marketing

e-cig tip - smallFollowing the FDA’s announcement earlier this spring that it would regulate the sale – but not marketing – of electronic cigarettes, debate has continued on the safety of using e-cigarettes and the ethics of advertising them.

In case you missed it, today’s New York Times delves into the issue and highlights how Big Tobacco is now rolling into the world of e-cigarettes, which writer Matt Richtel calls an “overnight sensation.” A subsidiary of Reynolds American plans to begin distributing its Vuse e-cigarette line nationwide on June 23 with a campaign that includes television ads (forbidden for cigarettes) in major markets, and other tobacco companies have similar entries in the works. Questions about the potentially far-reaching effects advertising of e-cigarettes, including promoting smoking tobacco and reaching child audiences, concern public-health advocates and other critics – and a U.S. Senate hearing is planned for Wednesday.

From the article:

Matthew L. Myers, [JD,] president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who is scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing, said the fact that the F.D.A. did not limit marketing allowed tobacco companies to return to the airwaves with ads that make e-cigarettes sexy, rebellious, glamorous — “exactly the same themes we saw work with kids in the U.S. for decades with cigarettes.”

In the absence of marketing regulation, “they will set the agenda,” Mr. Myers said of the tobacco companies. “They will drive the evolution of the product in a way that serves their interests and not public health, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Robert Jackler, MD, chair of otolaryngology at Stanford Medicine, is an expert on tobacco marketing who studies it through his center, the Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. Like Myers, he has vocalized his concerns about e-cigarettes and tobacco companies’ aggressive marketing tactics – especially those targeted toward teens – and you can hear more about his views and research in this recent podcast.

Previously: E-cigarettes and the FDA: A conversation with a tobacco-marketing researcherE-Cigarettes: The explosion of vaping is about to be regulatedStanford chair of otolaryngology discusses federal court’s ruling on graphic cigarette labels and What’s being done about the way tobacco companies market and manufacture products
Photo by Li Tsin Soon

Chronic Disease, Public Health, Research, Technology

More evidence that text message programs can help in managing diabetes

mobile_phone_6.16.14Previous research has shown that automated daily text messages can increase medication adherence among diabetic patients and reduce their repeated visits to the emergency room. Now new research offers more evidence that text-message-based programs are an effective tool in helping in those with type 2 diabetes improve their glycemic control.

For the study, researchers from the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute partnered with a San Diego-based community clinic providing care to a large percentage of Latino patients with type 2 diabetes. A group of 126 patients were randomly assigned to receive either standard care alone or standard care combined with frequent text messages. According to a release:

Standard care consisted of regular visits with a primary care physician and a brief computerized presentation conducted in English or Spanish that included; diabetes nutrition standards; desired targets for blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure; and medications recommended to achieve control.

For the text messaging group, the same standard care was provided but in addition messages were sent to their mobile devices at random times throughout the week. The messages focused on healthy nutrition tips, the benefits of physical activity and medication adherence, and requests to check blood sugar and send back results. Two to three messages were sent each day at the beginning of study enrollment, and the frequency tapered off over a six-month period.

“At the six-month mark, we found that the Dulce Digital [study] participants had a significantly larger decrease in hemoglobin A1c test levels than the control group,” said [Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, corporate vice president for the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute.]

Noting the promise of mobile phones to aide low-income populations in managing chronic diseases, Philis-Tsimikas said in the release, “We found that by using text messages we were able to circumvent many of the barriers these patients face, such as lack of transportation or childcare, while still being able to expand the reach of diabetes care and education.”

The findings were presented on Friday at the 74th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association in San Francisco.

Previously: Text message program helps smokers “stay focused on quitting”, Text message reminders shown effective in boosting flu shot rates among pregnant women and Texts may help people with diabetes manage care
Via HealthCanal
Photo by Wolfman-K

CDC, In the News, Pediatrics, Public Health

Teens these days: smoking less, but engaging in other risky behaviors

Teens these days: smoking less, but engaging in other risky behaviors

teen musicalMr. Camel, tear up those cigarettes. Statistics from the latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey, released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that 2013 marked the lowest incidence (15.7 percent) of teen smoking reported since 1991.

In other news, texting while driving, drinking soda and having unprotected sex are among the behaviors the report notes are worthy of concern. From the report:

During the 30 days before the survey, 41.4% of high school students nationwide among the 64.7% who drove a car or other vehicle during the 30 days before the survey had texted or e-mailed while driving, 34.9% had drunk alcohol, and 23.4% had used marijuana. During the 12 months before the survey, 14.8% had been electronically bullied, 19.6% had been bullied on school property, and 8.0% had attempted suicide.

During the 7 days before the survey, 5.0% of high school students had not eaten fruit or drunk 100% fruit juices and 6.6% had not eaten vegetables. More than one-third (41.3%) had played video or computer games or used a computer for something that was not school work for 3 or more hours per day on an average school day.

Previously: Adolescent Health Van wins community award for aiming to “help kids turn their lives around”A reminder that texting and driving don’t mix, To reduce use, educate teens on the risks of marijuana and prescription drugs and National Cancer Institute introduces free text message cessation service for teens
Via The Checkup
Photo by Daniel Oines

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