February 2009

Vaccines Don't Cause Autism. Honest.

In 1998, the highly respected British medical journal The Lancet published a paper by the now-infamous Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield claimed to have found link between vaccinations and autism. The paper was soon discredited, and the Lancet officially retracted the article. Investigation revealed that the paper’s author had been funded by a group of unethical British trial lawyers. The lawyers had unable to legitimately find the evidence they needed to sue pharmaceutical companies, so they had to resort to illegitimate means. Nevertheless, the belief that vaccines cause autism has persisted in the public mind. Last week, a special federal court ruled that there is no creditable link between either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal, and autism. Even the defense attorney, who was trying to prove that vaccines cause autism, admitted that "It wasn't even a close case." If the scientific evidence was not enough to convince vaccine conspiracy theorists, then a court ruling surely will not put a dent in their beliefs. Unfortunately, autism tends to become apparent at about the same age that most children receive vaccinations.

The Cold Virus Triumphs Again

The good news: scientists have decoded the genome of the common cold, which could allow us to create a cure for rhinovirus. The bad news: it doesn't really matter. First, the good news. After sequencing the rhinovirus genome, scientists found a portion of the genetic material which remains unchanged in all cold viruses. This part is crucial to the survival of the cold virus, which is why it doesn't mutate the way the rest of the virus's DNA does. The rhinovirus's ability to mutate its DNA is part of why the cold has been a moving target for researchers for so long. In fact, conventional wisdom held that there would never be a cure for the common cold. Now that we know the virus's base DNA, we can craft drugs to target it. The problem comes at the intersection of this amazing new discovery, and the reality of the market. Developing a new drug is fantastically expensive, and most drug manufacturers think carefully before they begin the process.

Allergies: Blood Tests Wildly Unreliable

For several years now, doctors have been wondering why allergies seem to be on the rise - now it appears that allergies may not be on the rise so much as inaccurate results of allergy tests. Recent studies have shown that blood tests for allergies are less than 50% accurate, giving a false positive result more than half the time. Having your blood tested for allergies is far simpler than getting a scratch test. Having had both, I can attest to this! With a blood test, they simply withdraw the blood, then whisk it away to a lab, and later you get the results. For a scratch test, one must sit on the doctor's table, on that crinkly tissue paper, for hours at a time while a variety of nurses and nurse's assistants poke you with tiny syringes. It's tedious, and painful, and the itch of a positive result is absolutely awful. (They chide you if you scratch. Ask me how I know.) The failure rate of blood allergy tests is of particular concern with food allergies. Testing positive for an allergy to a food you're not allergic to has a huge impact on quality of life.