Health and Science News for Parents

Mickey Mouse’s Measles Mean Trouble

written by Tara Haelle

Today is a super-short post because I’m deep in bookland, but I wanted to direct readers’ attention to the post I wrote at Forbes about the most recent outbreak of measles, “Disneyland Measles Outbreak: It Is Indeed a Small World After All.” Since I wrote that on Tuesday, the number of cases have grown to 52, as I covered in a follow-up today on the five things you need to know about the update.

That number is almost certainly going to continue climbing given how incredibly infectious the disease is and how low the southern California vaccination rates are. A running tally of the cases is regularly updated at the California Department of Health website, and I’ll be posting an update at Forbes tomorrow that addresses the increase in cases as well as the misconceptions about measles that persist on comment threads and in social media. Hopefully, the outbreak will be contained soon, but it doesn’t bode well that it’s made it to several states and that the California cases are climbing so quickly. And it’s just January of the new year.

Image created by Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes on Facebook.

Image created by Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes on Facebook.


Couple quick updates on autism news

written by Tara Haelle

I won’t be able to put up long or analytical posts until after the book deadline, but I’ll try to at least post links to work elsewhere that readers may be interested in checking out. Three pieces I’ve written in the past week or two relate to autism news that I want to highlight, plus a fourth piece that addresses the (utterly ridiculous) study trying to link circumcision and autism.

Does owning a pet help autistic children? Maybe, but a recent study didn't show that. Photo by Camilla Carvalho

Does owning a pet help autistic children? Maybe, but a recent study didn’t show that. Photo by Camilla Carvalho

The first is a post up at Forbes regarding a recent study that found the majority of increase in autism cases in Denmark was directly a result of changes in the diagnostic criteria of the developmental condition and the way the cases are tracked. A variety of studies have come to similar conclusions regarding the increase in autism incidence in the U.S. and elsewhere. The short version is that we don’t know how much – if at all – a “real” increase in autism is occurring at all. A combination of increased awareness, increased diagnoses, increased access to healthcare, and changes in how the condition is identified and diagnosed have all contributed tremendously to the increase and may even account for all of it, though that’s still unclear.

The next bit of news, written up at HealthDay, reported on study purporting to show how owning a pet can help autistic children develop stronger social skills. In reality, however, the study, which was very, very small, didn’t really show that at all. If I had the time, this would be one of those studies I break down in depth to show the various weaknesses and how the media ran with a fun-sounding headline without doing the critical work of really looking at what the findings actually said. The study was worth publishing, but not to show that pets help autistic kids. Rather, it was important to publish to show that we DON’T have much evidence at all that pets help autistic children, or at least not any more than they might help any other child without autism.

Then, a particularly important, if unsurprising, study in Pediatrics, also at HealthDay focuses on the difficulty health care providers have in identifying children who need further assessment for autism, at least during short well-child visits. A typical well-child visit lasts just 10-20 minutes with the doctor, and in that short time, the signs of autism can be easy to miss. Autistic children show plenty of typical behavior, and that typical behavior can obscure the couple instances of atypical behavior. That’s why it’s important for care providers to ask parents autism screening questions, as recommended by AAP, and for parents to be on the lookout for autism signs. A full checklist is here (pdf).

Finally, primatologist Ava Neyer does a great job of pointing out the many flaws in a recent study that attempted to link autism to circumcision. The very idea that someone conducted this study is offensive enough, but it’s less surprising when you consider the ideological biases of the lead author, who has previously tried to link circumcision to impotence and to decreased sexual enjoyment in women. No. Just no.


HPV vaccine and multiple sclerosis: Reassuring findings about Gardasil safety

written by Tara Haelle

I wrote yesterday about the MMR and varicella vaccines and noted that I frequently hear concerns about the MMR. In recent years, however, parents’ concerns about HPV seem to have eclipsed those about the MMR. Gardasil and Cervarix are newer vaccines, and they are given in older girls and boys to protect against a virus that is most commonly (but not exclusively) transmitted through sexual contact, so there are probably all sorts of cultural hesitations tied up in the usual safety concerns that people have about vaccines when it comes to this particular one.

Still, the HPV vaccine is the only one we have that was developed *specifically* to prevent cancer (though two strains in Gardasil also prevent genital warts). The hepatitis A and B vaccines also indirectly prevent a proportion of liver cancer cases since liver cancer can develop from hepatitis. But every single cervical cancer case is caused by one HPV strain or another, so preventing HPV means preventing cervical cancer directly. Further, HPV can cause penile, anal and head and neck cancers, which are rarer than cervical cancer – and can develop due to other causes – but are killers nonetheless that the HPV vaccine can partly prevent (and quite effectively).

MS can significantly impede physical activities, but this study didn't find any link between MS and the HPV vaccine. Photo by Joshua Davis.

MS can significantly impede physical activities, but this study didn’t find any link between MS and the HPV vaccine. Photo by Joshua Davis.

But ah… safety concerns. In the not-so-distant future, I have a project planned to look at every HPV concern and misconception out there, but for now, I’m just focused on a new study in JAMA that looked at multiple sclerosis and other demyelinating diseases. I wrote about this study in depth over at Forbes, so I encourage you to read that piece for the raw numbers and specifics on risk, but I’m adding a few things here.

First, what’s a demyelinating disease? It’s any condition in which myelin, the protective sheath around nerves, starts degrading, which means electrical messages can’t travel from one nerve cell to the next as quickly as they should. Multiple sclerosis is the best known of these, but it’s not the only one. Others include optic neuritis, neuromyelitis optica, transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, among others.

A handful of case studies have reported on multiple sclerosis or another demyelinating disease starting after HPV vaccination, such as one describing five patients whose symptoms began within three weeks of vaccination. These are the sorts of case studies that anti-vaccine advocates cherry-pick in promoting fear and misinformation about vaccines. Such studies are actually very important to investigating vaccine safety because they alert the medical community to a condition that occurred around the same time as a vaccination and *might* be related – but it’s important to remember that they can’t actually show that there was a link at all. These reports aren’t canaries in the coal mine. Rather, they’re calling attention to something worth studying further. They’re a way to say, “Hey, here’s something interesting. Come check this out. Maybe we ought to look for this in other people too!” And then other researchers come along and design extremely large safety studies to see if there could be a link between the vaccine and that condition.

When looking for these conditions, the rarer they are, the larger a sample size you need in a study. Otherwise, researchers can’t detect enough cases to compare among vaccination and unvaccinated individuals and to compare to background rate – the usual rate of that disease in a population (the prevalence). So, having thousands of people to study is helpful. Even better is a sample that comprises an entire nation’s population, and that’s exactly what this study did. Read the rest of this entry »


Investigating side effects from the MMR and MMR plus varicella vaccines

written by Tara Haelle

Of all the childhood vaccines on the CDC’s recommended schedule, the MMR is one of the oldest, the most effective… and the most feared. That is, I hear more parents express concerns about the MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, than any other childhood vaccine, and it’s the vaccine once maligned by debunked concerns about autism (debunked literally dozens and dozens of times). I also hear a lot of hesitancy about the varicella vaccine, which protects against chickenpox, perhaps because parents don’t understand why it’s necessary and perhaps because of worries about possible but extremely rare breakthrough infections.

It’s true that both of these vaccines are associated with more reactions that parents would notice – and worry about – than most of the other vaccines on the schedule, but a recent study in Pediatrics should offer some reassurance to parents wondering whether there are rare, undetected side effects from the combined MMRV or from the MMR when given along with the varicella vaccine. Answer: there aren’t. The study confirmed the risk of the same adverse events that we already knew were linked to these vaccines, and the researchers ruled out the other studied conditions as possible outcomes and didn’t find anything new to worry about. (Though, it’s nice that they keep looking, just in case, right? This is what I love about vaccine research. It never ends, so we just keep gathering more and more data to support what we know or help us understand what we don’t. But I digress…)

No surprises here! Researchers found exactly what they should have with the MMR and the MMRV vaccines. photo by Ned Horton

No surprises here! Researchers found exactly what they should have with the MMR and the MMRV vaccines. photo by Ned Horton

First, you can read what side effects have been linked to the MMR, to the varicella vaccine and to the MMRV at the CDC website. The most serious ones for MMR and MMRV are high fever, a seizure with no lasting damage, low platelet count and, in the rarest cases, a severe allergic reaction. (The site lists other adverse events that have been reported to occur after the vaccine, but these haven’t been shown to be caused by the vaccine; they occur so rarely that it’s so far been impossible to determine. Given the millions and millions of MMR doses administered over the years, the fact of that rarity alone should be reassuring.)

This new study, published today in Pediatrics and funded through America’s Health Insurance Plans and the CDC, looked at seizures, fevers, low platelet count (resulting from a condition called immune thrombocytopenia purpura, or ITP) and allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), but it also looked for increased risk of ataxia (jerky muscle movements), arthritis, meningitis/encephalitis, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (a neurological disease) and Kawasaki disease. The researchers compared the MMR and the MMRV from 2000 to 2012 in children aged 12 to 23 months old and enrolled in health care centers participating in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. The study involved more than 123,000 doses of MMRV and more than a half million doses of MMR plus varicella.

The good news: the researchers found no increased risk of any of these seven outcomes when comparing the MMRV to the MMR. In other words, the risk from the MMRV is no worse than the risk from MMR when it comes to the seven conditions they studied. I know, that doesn’t sound reassuring. But that’s what the point of the study was, to compare the MMRV to getting the MMR along with the varicella. And don’t worry – they also looked at the risk of these outcomes with each vaccine individually, and that’s where we get…

The better news: Other than the known link to ITP, no increased risk was seen for the other outcomes, and no new safety concerns were seen. “These estimates indicated that even if an increased risk for these outcomes exists, the risk is low and rare after either measles-containing vaccine,” the authors wrote. In fact, the risk of ataxia was actually significantly *lower* after both the MMR and the MMRV (though that’s probably a fluke and not a result of any protective effect from the vaccines).

The findings mathematically showed an increased risk for anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) after the MMRV, but this finding was based on only two cases, neither of which was confirmed as related to the vaccine and both of which occurred in children with a history of allergic reactions. So all this means is that two children with a history of severe allergic reactions had an allergic reaction following the MMRV that may or may not have been related to the vaccine. While the Institute of Medicine has established that the MMR and MMRV can cause a severe allergic reaction, it occurs in approximately 1.5 o 1.8 of every 1 million doses. An unvaccinated child has a much higher likelihood of catching the measles.

The bad news: The MMRV has about double the seizure risk of the MMR. But, we already knew this and the risk is still pretty low – 1 child out of 3,000 for the MMR and 1 child out of 1,250 for the MMRV, according to the CDC, which matches up with what was found in this study. The study also confirmed what we know in general: that the risk of fever and seizure is higher in the 7 to 10 days after getting either the MMR or the MMRV.

There was also an increased risk of ITP, particularly 14 to 28 days after the vaccines but also up to 42 days afterward. Yet again, we already knew that; the CDC estimates these low platelet counts occur in 1 out of every 30,000 doses. The condition goes away on its own within 6 to 12 months in 80 percent of kids and is rarely a serious or life-threatening condition.

So, today’s study is pretty unexciting, but then, that’s what we usually want from vaccine studies: nothing surprising and confirmation of what we already knew.



Beware the real-life poisoned apples

written by Tara Haelle

One of my son’s favorite treats to grab for the grocery basket are those prepackaged caramel apples, four caramel-covered apples on sticks in mass-produced molded plastic and often stamped with a manager’s special sticker at Kroger. But in light of a recent Listeria outbreak, he won’t be eating any of those caramel apples for a while to come.

The CDC is reporting a nationwide Listeria outbreak linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples which has caused illness in 28 persons to date, including 26 hospitalizations and four (possibly five) deaths across 10 states. (Five deaths have occurred among those hospitalized, but only four have been confirmed as linked to the listeriosis.) Among the 26 people hospitalized, nine involved pregnant women or her newborn and three have been otherwise healthy children between ages 5 and 15 who developed meningitis.

More than two dozen people have been sickened with Listeria, most likely tied to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. Photo from the CDC.

More than two dozen people have been sickened with Listeria, most likely tied to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. Photo from the CDC.

Listeriosis is not as common as food-borne illnesses caused by E. coli or salmonella – there tends to be about one outbreak a year – and it’s most commonly associated with pregnant women, newborns, older adults and immuno-compromised individuals. It’s the reason pregnant women are advised to avoid deli meats and soft, unpasteurized cheeses.

But this year there have been four outbreaks, and it’s not an illness that messes around. From the CDC: “A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has invasive infection, meaning the bacteria spread from their intestines to the blood, causing bloodstream infection, or to the central nervous system, causing meningitis.” Since it’s a bacterial infection, listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. Most symptoms show up in a few days, though it can sometimes take up to two months for symptoms to start.

Commercial, prepackaged caramel apples are suspected because 83 percent of those interviewed (15 of 18) said they ate one of these before they became ill. In the disease detective work that epidemiologists conduct while tracking an outbreak like this, that’s a pretty high level of similarity on a specific item that’s not necessarily a common everyday food item. No illnesses have been linked to ordinary (non-caramel-coated) apples, to homemade (not prepackaged) caramel-coated apples or to caramel candy. Investigators don’t know which brands or types of prepackaged caramel apples are affected.

Because of the seriousness of illness caused by Listeria, the CDC is recommending “out of an abundance of caution” that “U.S. consumers not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided.”

The tricky thing is that prepackaged caramel apples can have a long shelf life – a month or more – and might be sitting in families’ kitchens right now. If so, they need to be tossed. In fact, the CDC recommends sealing them in a plastic bag in a covered trash can to prevent animals and human dumpster divers from eating them.

Below is a map from the CDC of the states with cases.

listeria outbreak


A round-up: A new 9-strain HPV vaccine! The effects of debunking vaccine myths! News on phthalates, toys, IUDs, juice and breastfeeding!

written by Tara Haelle

I’ve been pretty busy the past several weeks with my HealthDay stories, my Forbes blog and my book, so I’ve neglected this blog more than I planned. However, I’d love to highlight the worthwhile studies and the stories I’ve covered elsewhere, so here’s a quick round-up of the past two weeks of my work in other places.

First, the FDA just approved Gardasil 9, an HPV vaccine that covers five more strains of the viral infection. Check out the details on my Forbes post, where you’ll learn that the new strains will prevent up to 90 percent of cervical, vulval and anal cancers.

Next, over at NPR, I discuss some new research that looked at the effects of debunking… myths about the flu vaccine. Yes, yes, I know. The irony is rich since I’m so well known for debunking exactly that vaccine, and they did test one of the misperceptions that I discuss, the false belief that the vaccine can give you the flu. I spent about an hour and a half talking to the lead researcher on that study and learned a great deal about science communication, plus some reminders of concepts I had previously learned from folks like Melanie Tannenbaum and Liz Neeley. There is actually a lot more to discuss on this topic, but I’ll be trying to get to that next week (and it’s something I’ll be frequently returning to).

Scooters led the injuries related to toys over the past decade, but wearing a helmet significantly reduces risk. Photo by Honza Soukup

Scooters led the injuries related to toys over the past decade, but wearing a helmet significantly reduces risk. Photo by Honza Soukup

Also at Forbes today, I wrote about a new BMJ study finding that press releases – GASP! – exaggerate scientific findings. It’s a duh study, to be sure, but there are some worthwhile insights I included from Gary Schwitzer of Health News Review and Matt Shipman, a PR officer at University of North Carolina. (I also wrote earlier this week about the return of Schwitzer’s with new funding.)

And then there are several HealthDay stories I think would be of interest to readers of this blog, the first of which is about prenatal exposures. (Note: HealthDay syndicates its stories, so I may share links to WebMD or CBS or other outlets that have run the story.)

While the compounds called phthalates have been banned from most children’s toys and baby products, they are still all around us and in hundreds of household products – and there is new evidence that they may play a role in your child’s development when the fetus is exposed to high levels. This is an observational study, so it can’t show that phthalates cause a lower IQ in children. It’s also only one study, and this is a new area of study, so I’m sharing the news cautiously, but it’s worthwhile to look for ways to reduce your exposure without becoming paranoid about it.

Another story I wrote had to do with a case study of a teenage football player who experienced atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm in the upper chambers of the heart – after a hard hit to the chest. This is a case study, which by definition means the circumstances are very rare, but it’s still worth drawing attention to the fact that symptoms like those described in the article shouldn’t be ignored, particularly following a hard hit in a sports game.

Another piece this week looked at rates of female contraception use over the past several years. The biggest change is that IUD use has nearly doubled, but I found the comments from Planned Parenthood about the impact of not having insurance on contraceptive choices particularly interesting.

Though these stories ran last week, they may also be of interest: breastfeeding just a few extra months might reduce risk of obesity in babies who are already at risk, and mothers who are obese during pregnancy have higher risk of poor birth outcomes.

Also last week, at Forbes, I wrote about the high rate of injuries caused by toys – which is dominated by non-motorized scooters. No, I don’t think there’s a problem with parents letting their children ride scooters, but they do need to be supervised and to be wearing protective gear (someone has pointed out that the photo on the post features one boy with a poorly fitting helmet).

I also wrote about the finding from a study in the journal of the American Dental Association that 100% juice doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. I oddly caught some pushback on this particular article from folks on social media and elsewhere who seem to think I’m promoting juice or in with Big Abbott or something. To the contrary, I think the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics of 4 to 6 oz. a day are sensible. I also recognize that 4 to 6 oz. is a very, very small amount of juice and that juice is best thought of as a treat. That doesn’t change the fact that this amount – and in fact more than double this amount, as consumed by many kids in the study – doesn’t increase the risk of caries. Yes, I would imagine that if kids were swilling 20 or 30 oz. a day, we might see different results. But alas, that’s not the study I covered.

Finally, although I didn’t write this, I want to draw your attention to an excellent post over at Science of Mom about the Tdap during pregnancy. She discusses both the flu vaccine and the pertussis vaccine, but she spends extra time discussing the safety of the Tdap during each pregnancy. Check it out.


Are you ready for flu and cold season?

written by Tara Haelle

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently write about vaccines and am particularly known for addressing misinformation about the flu vaccine. While the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of catching the flu, it cannot eliminate your risk, and it does nothing to prevent colds and most other viruses. Practicing good hygiene – washing your hands with soap and water, covering your mouth during coughs and sneezes, keeping hand sanitizer handy – can also go a long way to reducing your risk of getting sick. americamap

But, alas, many of us will still end up catching a cold, the flu or some other nasty over the next few months. That means deciding how to treat it, and many of us might reach for acetaminophen, the fever-reducer and pain reliever Americans know as Tylenol. The handy infographic below, provided to me by a PR friend, offers some facts about colds and flu and emphasizes the need to check products to be sure you know whether they have acetaminophen in them.

Acetaminophen is one of my go-to pain and fever relievers, but taking too much can be extremely dangerous and potentially cause liver damage. So, if you or a family member is taking it, you want to be sure you’re not getting a double or triple dose if you’re taking other combination meds at the same time. McNeil Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of Tylenol and the creators of the infographic below, have an online medicine checker that lets you find out whether a specific product already contains acetaminophen. Read the rest of this entry »


The sisters reached the top of Kilimanjaro

written by Tara Haelle

A little over a week ago I wrote about sisters Natalia Luis and Cidalia Luis-Akbar who were climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest peak on the African continent – to raise awareness about earlier and more accurate prenatal screening, particularly for high-risk pregnancies. Well, the women made it! They reached the 19,341-feet summit on Thanksgiving Day, though they’re still not quite at their $500,000 fundraising goal. Seeing their photos below, provided to me by the Children’s National PR team, brought back memories of my own climb. If you’d like to watch a video after they reached the top, you can view that here.

The first day of the climb is green and lush in a mild climate.

The first day of the climb is green and lush in a mild climate.

By the last day of the climb, there is no green to be seen.

By the last day of the climb, there is no green to be seen.


The sisters reached the summit on Thanksgiving Day.

The sisters reached the summit on Thanksgiving Day.



New insights into the secrets of SIDS

written by Tara Haelle

It’s a bit ironic that since I began researching and writing the chapter section of our book on SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and on bedsharing, I’ve been assigned two articles related to infant sleep deaths and then saw a study last week about a new discovery related to SIDS. It’s an area I’m particularly interested in and well-versed in, and about which I’ve blogged about before here and here.

Despite how much I had already read, however, I was surprised to learn a number of new things, so it seemed a good time to write about the new studies and to provide some hints of what’s to come in the book. The new studies are especially interesting in light of what I’ve learned in my research, such as possible physiological aspects of SIDS involving arousal, some reasons upright sleeping (such as in a car seat) may be a SIDS risk, and why soft bedding *under* a baby is a SIDS risk even if the baby sleeps on her back.

Let’s start with the study in Acta Neuropathologica last week which identified a possible brain abnormality linked to SIDS cases. Researchers inspected tissue from the hippocampus in 153 babies who died suddenly between 1991 and 2012. Some of the deaths were classified as SIDS or otherwise unexplained, and the others were due to infection, suffocation, an accident, homicide or other identifiable reasons. The hippocampus is a part of the brain involved in “autonomic function.” Autonomic function is the body’s internal management system: it’s the part of the nervous system that controls breathing, heartbeat, digestion and other bodily process that we need to survive but which we do not consciously control. The hippocampus in particular is involved in aspects of breathing and heart function.

The more we learn about SIDS and unsafe sleeping environments, the closer we can get to reducing infant sleep deaths. photo by sskies

The more we learn about SIDS and unsafe sleeping environments, the closer we can get to reducing infant sleep deaths. photo by sskies

The autonomic function also controls our ability to arouse from sleep, especially if something is wrong. It’s long been thought that SIDS occurs in part because some infants have an underlying genetic or other biological condition that affects their ability to arouse and/or their autonomic control over cardiorespiratory functions. When they are placed in a difficult environmental circumstance – such as sleeping on their stomachs or being around tobacco smoke – they cannot wake themselves up when necessary, such as if they briefly stop breathing for a few moments or have a heartrate irregularity.

The combination of some kind of breathing or heart episode and their inability to arouse themselves then appears to lead to their death. It’s possible that certain unsafe sleeping environments may even trigger the problem in the first place, such as reducing their ability to breathe well. (HOWEVER – and this is important – remember that it is never possible to remove all risks for SIDS. Even babies sleeping in safe sleeping environments, on their backs, can and do die from SIDS, and it is impossible to make 100% certain that an infant will not die in his or her sleep.)

Evidence has been building for this hypothesis, and the latest study lends even more support. Among those 153 babies, 41 percent of the ones who died for unexplained reasons (including 43 percent of those specifically identified as SIDS cases) had an abnormality in the hippocampus. Only 8 percent of the babies with explained deaths had this brain abnormality.

This is good news because it provides more clues to what might actually cause SIDS, or at least some cases of it. The abnormality was present in less than half the babies with SIDS, but researchers have already suspected that there might be multiple ways that SIDS deaths occur. At the same time, these findings are just one small step toward understanding SIDS better: this was a pretty small sample size (though that’s typical for SIDS-related studies), and the abnormality can only be identified in an autopsy, so it’s not something we could screen for.

So that study dealt with physiological aspects of SIDS. The other two I wrote about – and a third I’ll get to in a moment – dealt with the environmental aspects.

The first was actually from last month and deals with both SIDS and infant sleep suffocation deaths: the dangers of infants sleeping on sofas (the link goes to the article I wrote for HealthDay). The study, from Pediatrics Oct. 13, concluded that the sofa was pretty much among the most dangerous places for babies to sleep. Among just over 1,000 deaths examined for the study, 13 percent occurred on a sofa.

This finding isn’t news, of course, but I’m pointing it out because among the findings, babies who died sleeping on a couch were more than six times more likely “to be found in a new sleep location.” That means they don’t usually sleep on the couch. And that means some of these deaths quite likely could have resulted from parents accidentally falling asleep on the sofa, something that has been documented in other studies and will be more relevant in a moment.

The second study came out yesterday and found that more than half – yes, more than HALF – 55 percent, to be exact – of parents still use soft bedding in their infants’ sleep environments. The good news is that this number is a big drop from the 86 percent using soft bedding back in 1993. The bad news is that the proportion hasn’t budged much in the past decade, but soft bedding is still as much a risk factor for SIDS as it ever was. Clearly this message isn’t getting out as much as it needs to.

I wrote about the study for HealthDay and was impressed as I read it that the data set was so large: 19,000 parents interviewed between 1993 and 2010. But I also remember reading that the use of blankets *under* babies had increased from 26 percent to 32 percent over that time and wondering about the mechanisms for SIDS with soft bedding under sleeping babies. It makes sense that sleeping on pillows provide opportunities for babies to roll or sink into the pillow – a dangerous situation – but why would softness under a baby sleeping on her back and not yet rolling be a problem? Read the rest of this entry »


Supporting science on Giving Tuesday

written by Tara Haelle

Most of my blog posts center on recent research or interpreting studies relevant to parenting, and that means I’m frequently writing about vaccines. This time, rather than writing about a new study on vaccines or dispelling myths about them, I’m letting you know about a few organizations whose advocacy centers on immunizations (both in the U.S. and overseas) and then a third with a different focus.

Should you plan to participate in Giving Tuesday – the only part of the Black Friday – Small Business Saturday – Cyber Monday commercial insanity that I actually don’t find to be obnoxious – then these are organizations you may want to consider including in your giving campaign. (Side note: I really like the concept of Small Business Saturday, but I find the whole idea of such a shopping frenzy weekend so distasteful that I don’t tend to support any of it.)YFHC4qFB_400x400

The first organization is Voices for Vaccines, an organization headed up by my friend Karen Ernst which is unique in that it brings together parents specifically to counter the misinformation and fear-mongering promoted by anti-vaccine advocates. VFV encourages parents to speak up about vaccinating their children and has published on their blog several wonderful stories of parents who previously did not vaccinate and now are catching up or have caught up with vaccinations. The goal of VFV is to gather 1,000 donors on Giving Tuesday to support them, which you can do at You can also help by joining their Facebook event here and inviting friends. You can also share their video below with your friends, family and colleagues.Shotatlife_square-4f355d3393cfa

The second organization is Shot@Life, whose button I’ve included on my blog for a while. Shot@Life is a United Nations Foundation campaign that “educates, connects and empowers Americans to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries.” For Giving Tuesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match donations to Shot@Life for up to $200,000. You can donate here.

Then, the third organization, though not vaccine-related, offers an opportunity to help by getting rid of what you no longer need. A group of dad bloggers called NYC Dads Group are collecting gently used baby items for Baby Buggy. You can find their event here.

The ideal scenario? Support the grassroots efforts of Voices for Vaccines in making sure anti-vaccine advocates don’t control the conversation about the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines in the U.S., support the efforts of the UN Shot@Life campaign in giving children overseas access to the life-saving vaccines we have here, and then unload those baby swings and bouncer seats in your closets with the NYC Dads Group. Whatever you choose to do with your time or money this Tuesday, finding a way to give back – thereby counteracting the retail madness of Friday and Monday.

Here is the video of Voices for Vaccines:

*video embed code*

Shot@Life Join the Movement

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