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It’s Baaaaack! 33 Flu Vaccine Myths You Don’t Need to Fear

written by Tara Haelle

Brace yourselves: Flu season is coming! And with the coughing, fevers and aches come all the alarmist articles and blog posts on unreliable, misinformative websites questioning the flu vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. There are already some good posts out there that address some of these misconceptions about the vaccine so many love to hate (including the CDC’s own one), but none quite get around to addressing every last claim I’ve heard, and most don’t provide the citations right then and there to back up the accurate information provided.

And so I began this list last year, attempting to address every last myth about the flu vaccine I had come across and provide all the links needed to see where my information had come from. Admittedly, some of the “myths” aren’t exactly myths – they contain a morsel of truth in them – but they are misconceptions in that the morsel of truth has become twisted, misrepresented or misunderstood, and therefore important to address.fluvaxpic33

The post last year went unexpectedly, uh, viral, revealing just how much people are craving accurate information about the flu vaccine. Hopefully it convinced at least some people to get the vaccine since last season’s H1N1 strain hit young adults particularly hard. Either way, I’ve decided to update the posts for the 2014-2015 flu season. So far this year, of course, Ebola has upstaged the flu and stolen most of the headlines about a killer virus. But flu season has not really quite begun just yet, so it remains to be seen which one will dominate the media throughout the winter. What’s ironic is that the flu kills more people in one year – in the U.S. alone – than Ebola has killed ever in history worldwide.

But I’m already getting ahead of myself – I’ve bumped Ebola to #1 on this year’s list – so let’s get to it with two quick, important notes: First, for those who prefer to do their own research, I’ve provided all my sources in hyperlinks. More than half of these go directly to peer-reviewed medical research, and a fair number go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Second, but very important: I am a science journalist but not a medical doctor or other health care professional. I’ve compiled research here to debunk common myths about the flu vaccine. You should always consult a reliable, trusted medical professional with questions that pertain specifically to you. For the CDC recommendations on the 2014-2015 flu vaccines (including information on which vaccines pregnant women, the elderly and children under 2 should *not* get), please consult the CDC flu vaccine recommendations directly. There are indeed people who should *not* get the flu vaccine.

To make it easier to navigate, I’ve listed all 31 myths at the top followed by the factual information in parentheses, which is also a link to jump to that explanation. I use “flu shot” and “flu vaccine” interchangeably to refer to any type of flu vaccine, including the nasal vaccine.

Myth #1: You should fear Ebola more than the flu.
Fact: The flu poses greater risk to you than Ebola.
Myth #2: You don’t need the flu vaccine this year if you got it last year.
Fact: You need a new flu shot each year.
Myth #3: The flu shot is a “one size fits all” approach that doesn’t make sense for everyone.
Fact: You have many flu vaccine options.
Myth #4: People die from the flu shot.
Fact: There have been no confirmed deaths from the flu shot.
Myth #5: Deaths from the flu are exaggerated.
Fact: Thousands of people die from flu in a typical year.
Myth #6: The flu vaccine gives you the flu or makes you sick.
Fact: The flu shot can’t give you the flu.
Myth #7: Flu vaccines contains dangerous ingredients, such as mercury, formaldehyde and antifreeze.
Fact: Flu shot ingredients are safe.
Myth #8:  Pregnant women should not get the flu shot. The flu shot can cause miscarriages. Pregnant should only get the preservative-free flu shot.
Fact: Pregnant women should get the flu shot. Fact: The flu shot reduces miscarriage risk. Fact: Pregnant women can get any inactivated flu vaccine.
Myth #9: Flu vaccines can cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Fact: There is no link between Alzheimer’s disease and the flu vaccine; flu vaccines protect older adults.
Myth #10: Pharmaceutical companies make a massive profit off flu vaccines.
Fact: They’re a tiny source of pharma profit.
Myth #11: Flu vaccines don’t work.
Fact: Flu vaccines reduce the risk of flu.
Myth #12: Flu vaccines don’t work for children.
Fact: Flu vaccines reduce children’s risk of flu.
Myth #13: Flu vaccines make it easier for people to catch pneumonia or other infectious diseases.
Fact: Flu vaccines reduce the risk of pneumonia and other illnesses.
Myth #14: Flu vaccines cause vascular or cardiovascular disorders.
Fact: Flu shots reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Myth #15: Flu vaccines can break the “blood brain barrier” of young children, hindering their development.
Fact: Flu vaccines have been found safe for children 6 months and older.
Myth #16: Flu vaccines cause narcolepsy.
Fact: The U.S. seasonal flu vaccine does not cause narcolepsy.
Myth #17: The flu vaccine weakens your body’s immune response.
Fact: The flu vaccine prepares your immune system to fight influenza.
Myth #18: The flu vaccine causes nerve disorders such as Guillain Barre syndrome.
Fact: Influenza is more likely than the flu shot to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Myth #19: The flu vaccine can make you walk backwards or cause other neurological disorders.
Fact: Neurological side effects linked to flu vaccination are extremely rare (see Myth #18), but influenza can cause neurological complications.
Myth #20: Influenza isn’t that bad. Or, people recover quickly from it.
Fact: Influenza knocks most people down *hard*.
Myth #21: People don’t die from the flu unless they have another underlying condition already.
Fact: Otherwise healthy people DO die from the flu.
Myth #22: People with egg allergies cannot get the flu shot.
Fact: People with egg allergies can get a flu shot.
Myth #23: If I get the flu, antibiotics will take care of me.
Fact: Antibiotics can’t treat a viral infection.
Myth #24: The flu shot doesn’t work for me, personally, because last time I got it, I got the flu anyway.
Fact: The flu shot cannot guarantee you won’t get the flu, but it reduces your risk.
Myth #25: I never get the flu, so I don’t need the shot.
Fact: You can’t predict whether you’ll get the flu.
Myth #26: I can protect myself from the flu by eating right and washing my hands regularly.
Fact: A good diet and good hygiene alone cannot prevent the flu.
Myth #27: It’s okay if I get the flu because it will make my immune system stronger.
Fact: The flu weakens your immune system while your body is fighting it and puts others at risk.
Myth #28: If I do get the flu, I’ll just stay home so I’m not infecting others.
Fact: You can transmit the flu without showing symptoms.
Myth #29: Making a new vaccine each year only makes influenza strains stronger.
Fact: There’s no evidence flu vaccines have a major effect on virus mutations.
Myth #30: The side effects of the flu shot are worse than the flu.
Fact: The flu is worse than flu shot side effects.
Myth #31: The “stomach flu” is the flu.
Fact: The “stomach flu” is a generic term for gastrointestinal illnesses unrelated to influenza.
Myth #32: If you haven’t gotten a flu shot by November, there’s no point in getting one.
Fact: Getting the flu shot at any time during flu season will reduce your risk of getting the flu.
Myth #33: The flu vaccine causes Bell’s palsy.
Fact: The flu shot does not cause Bell’s palsy. Read the rest of this entry »


Ebola is in the U.S. Are we all going to die?

written by Tara Haelle

Yes, we are all going to die.

But not from Ebola.Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 2.10.40 AM

The media and social networks are understandably abuzz with the news that an individual in Dallas has become the first U.S.-diagnosed case of the Ebola virus. Ebola has no vaccine or cure and is an exotic, foreign disease. Pop culture descriptions of its symptoms have been, at times, over the top (to put it mildly, ahem Richard Preston). And then there are the frightening double digits of mortality rates, the “50% to 90%” I keep seeing cited on Twitter and Facebook.

(ETA) First, however, Ebola is not nearly as contagious as some people may fear it is. Measles and flu are much more contagious, and more dangerous. Read this *excellent* explainer at NPR’s Shots to understand how contagious Ebola is.

Yes, those who become ill with Ebola have a high mortality rate… IN AFRICA. Many diseases have far higher mortality rates in different African countries than in developed countries because the medical care, facilities, resources and availability of trained healthcare workers tends to be far greater in places such as North American and Europe when compared to most countries in Africa.

Here, in the U.S., safety protocols, equipment, resources and overall medical care are far superior. As Tara C. Smith writes in her fantastic piece at The Guardian, we got this. In fact, everything you need to know to maintain a measure of calm about Ebola in the U.S. is perfectly encapsulated in Dr. Smith’s article, so please, stop reading this, click this link, and read her article. She’s an infectious disease specialist. She knows her stuff. (She wrote a great piece debunking myths about Ebola in August.) She’s not worried. Neither should you be.

When you’ve finished that piece and taken a deep breath, read the excellent Q&A about what we do and don’t know concerning the Ebola patient in Dallas and this other Q&A about the outbreak in general. To further ease your mind, read about the disease on the CDC website, including transmission, risk of exposure and a general Q&A. I also published a previous Ebola reading list here. If you’re still worried, go back to Dr. Smith’s article and pay special attention to that part where she says your risk of dying in a roller coaster is greater than your risk of Ebola. (Risks of fatal bee stings, food poisoning and horse kickings are all greater than the risk of Ebola. And so is the flu, even though many people skip their opportunity to protect themselves against that pathogen.)

I understand the first instinct to panic. Again, Ebola is exotic and frightening. It is reasonable to be concerned about other people becoming infected with any disease. However, the level of fear and attention we devote to that concern should be in proportion to the risk. Right now, that risk with Ebola is minuscule, and therefore our concern should be minuscule. It’s not irrational to feel the fear when it’s a new, exotic disease. It is irrational to give into that fear and call for drastic measures that the facts and the risk do not justify.

My parents and my sister’s family live in the Dallas area. I mostly grew up in the Dallas metropolitan area and taught there. The vast majority of my friends live there. If there were a real threat, I would have good reasons to be concerned. But there is not a real threat, and I am not concerned. Again, neither should you be.

And with that, I’ll leave you with this ever-so-succinct infographic from Vox.


It’s flu shot season! And there are more options than ever before

written by Tara Haelle

It’s that time of the year again! I will be working on updating my massive post on myths about the flu vaccine over the next week, but in the meantime, I’ve gone and gotten my own flu vaccine. This year, I got the FluMist, the nasal vaccine, at Walgreens, which is running a pretty awesome promotion through October 13 called “Get a Shot. Give a Shot.” Partnering with the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life program, Walgreens will donate one vaccine to children in developing countries for every vaccine administered at one of their U.S. pharmacies. You can watch a video about the program below.

I got the nasal flu vaccine this year. Photo taken by an unnamed helpful pharmacy staff member.

I got the nasal flu vaccine this year. Photo taken by an unnamed helpful pharmacy staff member.

I expected the process to quite smooth, and it mostly was, except the delay when I realized my insurance plan frustratingly doesn’t consider Walgreens in-network. I can get a 50% reimbursement for the vaccine that I submit info for, but the only way for me to get a flu shot fully covered by my insurance was to go to my doctor’s office or find an in-network pharmacy (of which there is one, which I’ve never heard of, in Peoria). I could have headed to my doctor’s office, but I went ahead and paid out of pocket at Walgreen’s for a couple reasons. First, my boys were with me, and I wanted my older son to see me getting the vaccine that he’ll be getting on Thursday. The FluMist is quadrivalent, which means it contains all four strains recommended by the World Health Organization, and it’s more effective for children aged 2 to 8 than the injection is. (Note that children under 2, adults over 49, pregnant women and individuals with certain conditions should not get the FluMist because it’s a live vaccine.)

I also went with Walgreens because I really support their Get a Shot Give a Shot program. As I head off to Mozambique in a few weeks, I’ll be reminded of how many children in the developing world still desperately need vaccines and all the different agencies working together to make that happen. I am willing to pay a little out of pocket to support a business who is working with those agencies. Finally, the pharmacy staff at my local Walgreens is simply outstanding. They have always been very friendly and helpful, and they go out of their way to be accommodating whenever they can. It may not be a “local” business as part of large national corporation, but I am still happy to patronize any place where I am treated well.

As I mentioned, I got the FluMist because I wanted the protection of four strains. There is never a guarantee of which strains will be circulating, so every extra bit of protection is helpful, especially when the flu vaccine’s effectiveness varies considerably from year to year. The only injection the pharmacy had available was trivalent Fluvirin (covering three strains), and since I’m not pregnant this year, I’m able to get the live vaccine, thereby stimulating my immune system to develop antibodies against the following four influenza strains:

  • an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • an A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus
  • B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus

Unusually, these are the same strains as in last year’s flu shot, but I got the shot again because flu vaccines are not designed to provide immunity beyond a single season. Typically, this is because it’s expected that different recommended strains each year will require new formulations. In fact, the WHO has already announced new strains – different from this year’s – to be included in next year’s vaccine, including those to be used for the Southern Hemisphere (currently heading into summer) during the next flu season. However, even when the strains are identical from last year’s shot to this year’s, there is some evidence that immunity from the seasonal flu shot wanes over the year. While it’s certainly possible I still have antibodies for the three strains from last year’s shot, I would rather ensure that my immunity is as strong as it can be each season.

The FluMist is a quadrivalent live vaccine which is contraindicated for some conditions. Photo by Tara Haelle

The FluMist is a quadrivalent live vaccine which is contraindicated for some conditions. Photo by Tara Haelle

So, what flu vaccine should you get this year? The flu vaccine is still unfortunately not among our most effective vaccines, due largely to how many strains of flu exist and how the strains change over the year. However, it still reduces the risk of the flu anywhere from approximately 40% to 70% (ish) each year. Whether you are immunocompromised, allergic to eggs, afraid of needles or have some other limitation, there is likely a flu vaccine option for you. I recommend checking out this *excellent* Washington Post piece that runs through all the options: the basic (trivalent) flu shot, the quadrivalent shot, the nasal spray (quadrivalent), the high-dose vaccine (for older adults), the recombinant vaccine (egg-free!), the PharmaJet-delivered vaccine (trivalent, no needle!), and the intradermal shot.

As always, neither this blog nor the Washington Post article nor any other news article is doling out medical advice. Always consult your doctor regarding which flu vaccine is right for you and your family members.


FDA cracks down on essential oils distributors and other “natural health” peddlers

written by Tara Haelle

If you can think of a disease or medical condition, somebody somewhere out there will declare it can be treated or cured with an essential oil. Athlete’s foot, candida, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s, depression, cystic fibrosis, cancer, MRSA, ringwork, staph, anxiety, tuberculosis, sinusitis, shingles, pertussis, flu, lupus, ADHD, pneumonia, herpes, high cholesterol, measles, arthritis, bronchitis, inflammation, diabetes, insomnia, Hashimoto’s disease, gum disease, thyroid problems, ulcers, autism, Crohn’s disease, asthma irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones, joint pain, Bell’s palsy…the list never ends. Even Ebola can supposedly be cured by cinnamon bark and some other combination of oregano, lavender, tea tree, clove, eucalyptus, frankincense, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary… Again, the list goes on.

The way some essential oils are peddled to cure any disease is reminiscent of the snake oil claims of the past. Photo by Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria, courtesy Wikimedia

The way some essential oils are peddled to cure any disease is reminiscent of the snake oil claims of the past. Photo by Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria, courtesy Wikimedia

But hopefully, this nonsense all over the web will soon stop, or at least slow down considerably. The FDA issued Warning Letters last week to three individuals regarding their health claims for essential oils and related “natural healing” products. The letters – sent to Young Living, who manufacture and distribute Young Living Essential Oil products; dōTERRA International, another essential oils distributor; and the Natural Solutions Foundation, who sell “nano silver,” hemp oil and other products – were all pretty similar to one another.

The letters warn that the way the products are being marketed on websites and on social media means those products are “drugs” under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Therefore, “The therapeutic claims on your websites establish that the products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. As explained further below, introducing or delivering these products for introduction into interstate commerce for such uses violates the Act,” as the one to Rima Laibow and Ralph Fucetola at Natural Solutions Foundation states. Each letter is worth reading in full simply to see how extensively the FDA documents the ridiculous claims made by these businesses.

It’s about time. It’s not as though essential oils or the bogus health claims associated with them are new. Indeed, the claims are not much different than the snake oil claims of bygone eras. But the Internet has made distribution even easier, the claims more widespread, and regulation much tougher. Both Young Living and doTerra are multi-level marketing companies, AKA pyramid schemes, and those tend to grow quickly before (eventually, usually) crashing and burning. The FDA already has a massive job, so it can’t be easy or even possible to go after every person making such claims, but the essential oils industry has exploded in recent years, exceeding $1 billion in annual revenue. And alongside that growth, claims of what these oils can cure has gotten out of control.

Certainly essential oils can be used for a variety of things, ranging from aromatherapy for headaches to skin allergic reactions from bug bites. But they can’t cure cancer. Or Ebola. Nor can nano silver cure “every pathogen against which it has been tested, worldwide, without exception,” as the Natural Solutions Foundation claims. Or perhaps that much is true if we consider that nano silver has not been tested for too many things in randomized, controlled trials, though apparently it may be helpful in fluoride for fighting tooth caries. Such a thought must make pseudoscience believers’ heads explode considering those who promote essential oils’ use for treating conditions such as cancer are in the same communities who believe fluoride is a dangerous neurotoxin. And while nano silver does have antibacterial properties, it cannot cure Ebola. (If only it were so easy.)

I suspect it’s the Ebola claims that eventually pushed the FDA over the edge in issuing these letters. (I don’t know that for a fact; it’s just a hunch since claims about Ebola proliferated on these websites as the public health crisis in west Africa grew.) Whatever it was, I’m glad to see the agency finally addressing these claims. Essential oils in and of themselves are not harmful, but the way they can be used – especially when administered to children undiluted or if ingested – can certainly cause harms, including death, as pediatrician Roy Benaroch describes here. There are many responsible manufacturers or distributors of essential oils that issue appropriate guidelines and warnings, such as not ingesting them and using them on babies, children or pets. Let’s hope that the FDA is successful in shutting down these harmful claims and that they can keep up with the others that will inevitably pop up.


Cyberbullying Guest Post: Know the statistics and how to help your children

written by Tara Haelle

Today’s post is from guest contributor Amy Williams, a writer and former social worker in Southern California. She previously specialized in teen behavioral issues and has created an infographic (sourced with secondary sources) below with statistics on cyberbullying. She has two children of her own and can be found at her website here or on Twitter.

Our son was cyberbullied in middle school. The worse the problem got, the more he became more reclusive and anxiety ridden. We had no idea what was happening and had come up with a few different theories as to what could have caused his change in behavior. Never did we imagine that distant acquaintances he met at a school football game had been berating him daily.KeepingChildSafefromCyberBullyingPARTIAL

Opened Eyes

Once we realized what was happening, we began our research. The numbers surprised us (sources in infographic):

  • 25% of pre-teens and teenagers are cyberbullied daily. This number is growing every year.
  • 62% have observed a friend being cyberbullied or cyberbullying others.
  • 90% will not confide in their parents or another adult when victimized.

This last number really hit us hard. It was a real eye opener and a teachable moment. Rather than look outside ourselves for answers we first looked within to see what we could change in our household to make sure this never happened again.

The Re-Connect

We were not too happy about the fact that our son had not spoken to us about this, so we eventually sought outside help. It took some work, but has ultimately created what I feel is a stronger relationship between us and our son. Here are a few tips that may help you re-connect with your child so they come to you first when threatened: Read the rest of this entry »


Quick update: Reporting on vaccines from Mozambique and my writing process

written by Tara Haelle

I mentioned my blog posts would be more sporadic as I finish up the book, and some, like this one, will be just brief updates to let folks know what I’m up to as it relates to the topics on this blog.

Image courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

Image courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The first part of my update is the most exciting: I applied for an International Reporting Project fellowship and was selected as one of ten journalists to travel to Mozambique for two weeks to report on immunizations and child health. One of the expectations of my going is that I will be regularly posting updates about what I learn, so expect to read about that experience between October 24 and November 6, while I’m in Africa. I will be in the company of a diverse, accomplished group of other journalists you can read about here.

The other update is for those who are interested in how I work as a journalist and writer. I was featured as a “Rebel Woman” on the Creative Revolution website, where I wrote about why I write and my process as a writer. So, if you’re interested in what makes me tick as a wrangler of words, check it out!


Red wine and… exercise, or how to deconstruct the hype of a health news story

written by Tara Haelle

I ran across one of those health stories recently that made me want to cheer, laugh and cry all at the same time. Really, the headline says it all: “Is Drinking Wine Better Than Going to the Gym? According to Scientists, Yes!” And of course, because of both the subject matter (red wine!) and the way it was handled in the story, I felt I absolutely had to look at the study and write about it. (I did wait a few hours before looking up the study so that I could briefly revel in the idea that red wine cures all ills and is superior to exercise.)

glass of red wine being poured

Health news reader beware… as most people (hopefully!) no, it’s not true just because you read it on the Internet. Photo by Trish Hughes.

First, of course, the headline is so absurd that I still smile when I read it. IS drinking wine better than going to the gym? Well, heck, it sure is to me on many days. Would I rather sit and have a glass of Shiraz while winding down at the end of the day or head out to the gym for the workout I skipped earlier that day? Drinking certainly sounds better on most nights! (Better for *what*, however, is a different question, of course.)

The caption on the enticing photo offers a little more specificity: “A glass of red wine per day is as beneficial as going to the gym.” Again, beneficial in what sense? Mental health? That’s a claim actually worth exploring, but alas, that’s not what they meant. (It’s also different from the headline: is it BETTER than going to the gym, or just AS beneficial? It can’t be equal and better at the same time.)

What they mean, however, is that it’s better for heart health (I think — they also mention diabetes). And once you start reading the first paragraph, the caveats to the headline start popping up: First, it’s not red wine, per se, that has been tested in this study, but resveratrol, an antioxidant that has been studied for years as a compound that may “prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevents blood clots,” the Mayo Clinic puts it. So right off, this study isn’t “news.” And it’s not just wine either since the article notes that resveratrol is in nuts and grapes (from which wine is made, obviously).

Second, as with nearly all resveratrol studies, the researchers tested the compound on rats. Last time I checked, humans are no furry creatures with tails scavenging trash for food, and our physiology does, in fact, differ. What happens to a rat does not necessarily happen to a human, and until effects are seen in humans, any research, while valuable, cannot conclude anything about humans.

The opening to their second paragraph made me laugh again: “While scientists and wine lovers are rejoicing over this news…” I have this image of scientists in white coats in the lab dancing with pompous wine tasters from Napa Valley, clinking their glasses of red wine and laughing as it splashes out on them. At least I’ll give them credit for saying that doctors aren’t going to start recommend their patients start drinking and that alcohol can negatively affects the body.

There isn’t much of substance beyond this… except a throw-away mention that red wine (in moderation) promotes longevity, cuts risk of cataracts and colon cancer, reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and slows down brain decline. WooBoy! That’s quite a list! I would ask for evidence, but their link does indeed take us to a list of evidence. The problem is that we know virtually nothing about these studies, how they were conducted, whether they controlled for confounders, whether they were replicated, etc. So it’s probably best that we just ignore this last paragraph altogether (lest we end up down a rabbit hole) and focus on the study they are writing about.

I looked up studies on resveratrol by Jason Dyck on PubMed and found the one I think they’re referring to since it was published in August: “Systemic and renal oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of hypertension: modulation of long-term control of arterial blood pressure by resveratrol.” And so I read the abstract. I would read the whole paper, but really, the abstract alone provides plenty of information to show how bunk the news article is. Read the rest of this entry »


How to help your children recover from a burglary

written by Tara Haelle

Today’s post is a guest post from Elli Bishop, an expert on home security who works in outreach at SafeWise. Further information on SafeWise is below.

Being the victim of any crime is a disheartening and stressful experience, but a burglary is an especially traumatic one. In addition to the financial impact of property damage and stolen items, victims often suffer emotional trauma due to the fact that a stranger violated their personal property. Sadly, psychological damage is a particular concern for children who aren’t able to fully understand what happened and haven’t developed the coping skills of an adult.

Thankfully, a number of well respected professionals have researched the impact of a burglary on a child’s emotional well being. We’ve coupled their research with our own tips to provide you this useful guide to helping your child recover from a break-in.

Coping with Trauma
When dealing with the fallout of a burglary, it’s important to realize everyone in your home will cope with the aftermath of a burglary in their own way.

More than anything, children need to feel safe and secure after a break-in has occurred. photo by Ben Earwicker of Garrison Photography, Boise, ID

More than anything, children need to feel safe and secure after a break-in has occurred. photo by Ben Earwicker of Garrison Photography, Boise, ID,

If you’re a parent of a young child, you might be tempted to dismiss your child’s fears in an effort to help him or her feel safe and recover sooner. Instead, listen to your young child’s concerns (even if they are fantastical) to try and understand what they are feeling. This will help you be better prepared to help him or her cope. In fact, psychologists who specialize in children and trauma say it’s imperative that parents not only understand their child’s need to talk, they must listen to them patiently.

While younger children may cry, wet their bed, or have scary dreams as a result of a traumatic situation such as a break-in, anxiety problems (PDF) can develop in older children because they have developed the ability to think about future possibilities and to consider multiple threatening outcomes. Even though your teen says he’s coping fine, you’ll want to keep a look out for signs of trouble, including insomnia, excessive sleep, withdrawing from friends and activities, and a down-turn in academic performance.

Be aware that although each of your children has a developed a different set of coping skills and a distinct personality, girls generally tend to display higher levels of anxiety symptoms than boys.

How Children Process a Break-in
You’re justifiably disturbed by the fact that your home was ransacked by a stranger and your property was stolen. But your child is likely to be even more troubled. Children often view the incident as a “failure in the security system of their world,” according to psychologist Gwen Randall-Young. Randall-Young notes that between the ages of five to seven, children typically go through a stage where they are afraid of “robbers.” A break-in at this point is particularly damaging because it confirms their worst fears.

5 Ways to Help Children Recover
Healing takes time, but there are a few things you can do to help minimize the impact of a burglary and get your family back on track. Read the rest of this entry »


Recommended PBS NOVA documentary focuses on vaccines

written by Tara Haelle

There have been some really poor documentaries related to vaccines in recent years – ones I won’t name them because of the misinformation they spread – so it’s been a breath of fresh air to see two documentaries this year that actually provide factual information about vaccines. The first is a high school student film, Invisible Threat, which did such a good job of providing accurate information that it aroused the ire of anti-vaccine advocates.

Screenshot captured from the preview for "Vaccines – Calling the Shots."

Screenshot captured from the preview for “Vaccines – Calling the Shots.”

And now PBS NOVA has aired a new documentary called “Vaccines – Calling the Shots,” which really dives headfirst into what the supposed “controversy” over vaccines has wrought. As the preview (which you can also view below) notes, the film “examines the science behind vaccinations, the return of preventable diseases, and the risks of opting out.”

Some of these same themes are present in the piece I wrote, “Two Countries, One Deadly Disease,” for NOVANext to accompany the documentary. I basically tell the story of the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of MMR vaccination rates and measles outbreaks since Wakefield published his fraudulent study in 1998, as well as the lessons both nations can learn from one another. The piece was challenging to pull together, but I’m pleased with it, so I hope you’ll check it out.

Also part of the package accompanying the film are a series of explainers written by my book co-author, Emily Willingham. Each one does a great job of discussing various concepts or issues related to vaccination, including topics I’m regularly asked about, so I’m including them below for easy reference. Check them out over the next couple of weeks as you have time, and I’ll bet you find yourself bookmarking them and sharing them with others.

The Autism-Vaccine Myth

What is Herd Immunity?

Why is Whooping Cough Back?

Preventing HPV-Caused Cancers

What Drives Vaccination Rates?

Tracking Disease Outbreaks

If you want to join in on the Twitter discussion about the film and ideas it covers, the hashtag is #vaccinesNOVA. I spent some time tweeting out links with accurate vaccination information last night since a lot of misinformation was being tweeted with the hashtag. Hopefully as the conversation continues, that will change.

See the film trailer here:


The new Scooby Doo movie really steps in it

written by Tara Haelle

For those of you in the same age demographic as me, you probably grew up hearing this tune on Saturday mornings:

“Scooby Dooby Doo,Where are you? We got some work to do now.

Scooby Dooby Doo,Where are you? We need some help from you now.”

And oh boy, oh boy do we need some help. Really, we could use Scooby Doo and the gang just going away at this point. Others have already lamented how the recent reincarnation of the show abandoned its roots of revealing all things supernatural to really be just real-life losers in masks. But now a new Scooby Doo movie has offers up a storyline that conveys some very unhealthy and potentially damaging messaging to children.

Apparently, this is Warner Brothers' idea of a "size 8" on Daphne. Screenshot from the Warner Brothers YouTube clip linked below.

Apparently, this is Warner Brothers’ idea of a “size 8″ on Daphne. Screenshot from the Warner Brothers YouTube clip linked below.

It was while I was working on the HealthDay story that I blogged about Monday that I read two pieces about the plot of the new Scooby Doo movie, “Frankencreepy,” released August 19, that utterly enraged me. I have not seen the complete film, but I have watched one relevant clip provided with the Huffington Post story, which, along with the Yahoo! News story, was inspired by a post at the Good Men Project by dad Tom Burns. (Time covered it too.) I have also read the statement Warner Brothers released in response to the criticism, and these sources combined are sufficient for my concerns. The plot involves each of the characters’ being cursed with losing that which is “most dear” to them. The superficial Daphne prizes her looks most, and so she is cursed with… becoming a size 8.

Yes, a size 8, otherwise known as several sizes *smaller* than the average American woman. Further, the film show a Daphne who looks more like a size 22. I’m a far cry from size 8 (at least since high school), and Daphne looks much bigger than me. According to a statement from Warner Brothers (which I’ll get to in a moment) and comments from an Amazon reviewer, the film’s message is supposed to be that Daphne’s concern about her appearance is superficial and not even what actually matters most to her. However, there are dozens of other ways the filmmakers could have changed her appearance to convey this message. Fat-shaming is not the way to do it, and there is no way I can be convinced that it’s not fat-shaming when the first words Daphne speaks after seeing her enlarged reflection are “Is that why I’ve lost my looks?” Warner Brothers is sending a clear message right there that “fat” girls (or size 8 girls!) can’t be good-looking.

Consider some of the research on children who might watch Scooby Doo: a study from 1991 found that 42% of first- through third-graders wanted to be thinner than they were. Another found that up to four out of every five 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. These concepts form early in children’s heads.

Way to play on your target demographic’s fears, Warner Brothers.

Just as frustrating is the hole the studio kept digging with their statement: Read the rest of this entry »


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