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Jen Pinkowski
Jen Pinkowski

A Growing Number of Parents Think Vaccines Are "Unnecessary"

Jen Pinkowski
Jen Pinkowski

We have good news and bad news. The good news is that, according to a recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), parents are beginning to let go of the harmful and wildly inaccurate idea that vaccines cause autism. The bad news is that even more people refuse to vaccinate their kids; it’s just that their reasons are changing. 

The AAP conducted phone surveys of more than 600 doctors in 2006 and 2013 to learn about the conversations parents and pediatricians were having about vaccination. Ten years ago, 75 percent of respondents said they’d encountered parents opposed to vaccination. By 2013, that number was up to 87 percent. The number of parents citing autism fears has declined, but more parents told their pediatricians that vaccines were simply “unnecessary.” 

This is, to put it mildly, dangerously wrong. Vaccines are the single greatest reason that children in the U.S. can now expect to live past their fifth birthday. They’ve allowed us to eradicate certain diseases and massively reduce outbreaks of others. They’re drastically lowering the rates of certain cancers. But they only work if we use them, and use them widely. 

Pediatricians vaccinate their patients not only to protect those children, but to protect their entire community, especially infants and the elderly, who may have compromised immune systems. Refusing to vaccinate a child risks that child’s life and the lives of everyone around them. 

But it’s far from a lost cause. Respondents to both the 2006 and 2013 surveys said that talking to parents yielded a change of mind in 30 percent of parents who originally refused to vaccinate. And the more the doctors and the families talked, the more likely parents were to shift their stance.

Lolita McDavid is medical director of child advocacy and protection at the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She was unaffiliated with the AAP study but said the findings were unsurprising. In some ways, vaccines are a victim of their own success. Decades of vaccination have made many causes of child mortality things of the past, so people fail to recognize the real danger posed by a lack of vaccination. 

“In the past, people were scared of polio and whooping cough,” she told ABC News, “but parents aren’t now because they don’t see it anymore. It’s a very uninformed way to approach a child’s health.”

To bring this point home, McDavid sends vaccine-averse parents home with an assignment: “I want you to go to an old cemetery, walk through, look at the headstones of the babies that died at age 1, 2, 3 years of age.”

Vaccinations are mandatory for public school attendance in most parts of the country, but many states include an opt-out for parents who object on the basis of religion or other beliefs. The AAP released its survey results this week as part of a call for public health officials to eliminate all vaccine exemptions except those that are medically necessary. 

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Yvonne A. Maldonado, vice chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases. “We have to protect children if we have the means to do so.”

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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