Science writing, like autism, exists on a spectrum. First the good, from Heritage Newspapers in Washtenaw County, Michigan:
Addressing common myths of the flu vaccine, Crowe said most rumors are unfounded.
“Some people worry that they will get sick after being vaccinated. If they get sick, it’s only by coincidence,” she said. “The flu virus is not a live virus when it is used in the vaccine. There are no indications that it has caused people to suddenly fall ill.”
In addition, concerns that the use of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative found in most childhood vaccines, is linked to autism have not been proven, she said.
“There is thimerosal in some flu vaccines, but all-in-all, I believe it’s safe,” she said. “The benefits outweigh the reactions to it.”
Got that? Unfounded beliefs are myths. Coincidence creates an illusion of causation. The virus contained in a flu shot is not dangerous. I’m not crazy about the lukewarm thumbs up for thimerosal – it would be far better to state unequivocally “There is no credible evidence that the small amount of thimerosal present in a flu shot is dangerous.” But what do you do? Dr. Patricia Crowe, center medical director for Concentra Urgent Medical Care Center in Brighton, might be concerned that anti-vaccine activists could follow her home after work. Regardless, editor Daniel Lai deserves major props for some solid reporting. Would a follow up story about the dangers of vaccine scaremongering be too much to ask? Email Daniel at dlai at heritage.com and encourage him to keep up the good work.
Moving on to the bad, KOMU-TV in Columbia, MO is posting a spectrum of viewpoints on its blog, Thrashing Autism to Within an Inch of its Life and Tossing it from a Moving Vehicle From Within. Viewer “Rachel”reminds us why a little knowledge is a dangerous thing:
I started researching vaccines when I was pregnant. My mother in law told me that she had heard that autism might be linked to them since they are giving so many now. When I found out that they were trying to convince me that the chicken pox was a “deadly” disease that we had to vaccinate against, red flags went up… you’re SUPPOSED to get chicken pox as a kid! I was also astounded that we needed to give a hepatitis B shot at birth. I don’t claim to be a professional in the medical field, but I am certainly no dummy. I know a thing or two about a few diseases, and I know that hepatitis B is a blood infection that is transmitted by IV-sharing individuals, prostitutes and homosexuals. NOT newborns in sterile hospital nurseries. I thought the medical community had lost their minds when they said they NEEDED to vaccinate at birth for hepatitis B. That seemed OUTRAGEOUS to me!
Huh? Chickenpox, can lead to secondary infections and death, especially in some high-risk groups. Serious complications occur via bacterial infection of the skin, but pneumonia and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) also occur. Researchers in Ireland recently looked at children hospitalized with chicken pox over a 13 month period, and found that “bacteraemia/septic shock was observed in 30 children, pneumonia in another 30, encephalitis was seen in 26 of the cohort, while 25 children had ataxia. Toxic shock syndrome or toxin-mediated disease occurred in 14 children. Fifty-one per cent of cases had additional bacterial or viral infections and six deaths were reported, including one intrauterine death.”
In a devastating Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin pediatrician took Rachel, KOMU and their fellow travelers to task with this tale from the trenches:
I was the senior pediatric resident on call in the Intensive Care Unit. Cradled in the arms of her parents, a seven-year-old girl was brought to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Boston. The girl had come down with chickenpox a few days earlier – she had a fever and hundreds of itchy skin lesions. That night, she had taken a turn for the worse. Her fever shot up to 106 and she became confused and lethargic. She was unresponsive and limp in her mother’s arms.
The ER doctors suspected that her open sores allowed Strep bacteria to get under her skin and rage through her bloodstream. Now she was in “multiple system organ failure” – every square inch of her body was shutting down all at once. IVs were placed into her veins to start fluids, antibiotics and medications to stabilize her heart and blood pressure. She was placed on a ventilator machine to breathe. Then she was brought to the Intensive Care Unit.
By the time I met my patient, she had tubes coming out of every opening and weeping skin lesions all over her body. I was used to blood and gore, but it was hard to look at her and not cry. Imagine how her parents felt when they saw their once-beautiful little girl in this grotesque state, struggling to survive.
My attending physician told me to grab dinner. This child would need me for the rest of the night. I returned to the ICU to find that my patient had gone into cardiac arrest and died. I watched, helplessly, as the nurses placed the little girl into a body bag.
So why does KOMU solicit and publish demonstrably wrong information? To present all sides, of course! But the station has really crossed a line with Rachel. Letting an unqualified viewer tell us that chicken pox is benign is reckless. A recent study in Pediatrics reports that autistic symptoms lessen with fever. Will Rachel recommend induced bacterial infection to recover children with autism? I know a TV-station that will give her a platform.
And finally, WLNS in Lansing, MI, serves up a steaming pile of ugly in a story about the state’s proposal to mandate insurance coverage of the treatment of autism:
Mara Husband, mother of autistic child: “It’s a constant battle between what’s the right thing for your whole family in the future, you know, do we risk the chance of maybe having to move in with his mom because we lose our house? That’s what we’re facing, so it’s very overwhelming.”
Overwhelming because, without treatment, there’s little hope for autistic children.
Without daily doses of critical thinking, there’s little hope for local TV news coverage of autism. What exactly is the evidence that autistic children face bleak, hopeless futures unless they receive anything more than the love, acceptance, and nurturing afforded their neurotypical peers? Repeat after me: autism is a developmental disorder. There is no cure, no magic bullet, but pretending there is can make matters much, much worse.
That’s the story.