Whooping Cough Epidemic Claims 6-Week-Old in New Zealand

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A whooping cough epidemic sweeping the country has claimed the life of a 6-week-old Christchurch baby.


Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Ramon Pink yesterday confirmed the baby died of the disease in Christchurch Hospital last month.

The baby, who was born prematurely, had been scheduled to go to Auckland’s Starship children’s hospital but had been too sick to travel.

“It was a very difficult experience for [the family],” Pink said.

One other pertussis death has been reported this year. It involved a 3-year-old unimmunised child with underlying health conditions from another part of the country.

“It’s a tragic reminder, I think, of the seriousness of whooping cough. It’s a significant issue and showing no signs of abating. It is a national epidemic,” Pink said.

About 5389 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, have been reported throughout the country this year, including 1150 in Canterbury and 52 involving children under 1.

Written By: Nicole Mathewson
continue to source article at stuff.co.nz

15 COMMENTS

  1. It’s interesting that pharmaceutical companies have little difficulty in selling so many drugs for which there is no scientific evidence of their benefits, or which even cause net harm. Yet vaccinations known to certainly be effective at preventing diseases are increasingly ignored or avoided by customers who believe those same vaccinations actually cause those diseases, or others like autism in children.

    One of the key problems is that statistics and probability are counter-intuitive to most people, including many scientists. Plus the concept of preventative health is fundamentally flawed to the extent that people want value for money and won’t incur costs for treatment if they’re not really sick, or if it will mostly only indirectly benefit other people.

    Maybe drug producers should be working on pharmaceutical development towards improving people’s understanding of probability and statistics. Except that could never happen because pharmaceutical industry research and profitability depends crucially on researchers, reviewers, physicians, regulators, and the public all not having a very good grasp of statistics.

    I suspect that many who opt out of vaccinations won’t take scientific claims about pharmaceutical effectiveness and safety seriously until unnecessary and ineffective drugs are withdrawn. Unlikely, since most peoples’ pension funds depend on investments in the future profitability of those same pharmaceutical firms. One of the causes of low vaccination rates might be the many successive incidents that have come to light which have resulted in scientific pharmaceutical research having very low credibility.

    On a related matter I read recently that artificial hip and knee replacement surgery may soon become a thing of the past. Not because of any innovative treatment or cure but because it will simply be far too dangerous to undertake non-life threatening surgery in any hospital environment, owing to the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. (Presumably combined with hand-washing resistant physicians.)

  2. We spend a lot of time telling pregnant women to not take things so I can understand they might be hesitant.   Does anyone know what the uptake of these programs has been in other countries ? I think the UK started one this year.

  3. pharmaceutical companies [sell] many drugs for which there is no scientific evidence of their benefits, or which even cause net harm … 
    statistics and probability are counter-intuitive to most people, including many scientists …
    pharmaceutical industry research and profitability depends crucially on researchers, reviewers, physicians, regulators, and the public all not having a very good grasp of statistics … 
    most peoples’ [sic] pension funds depend on investments in the future profitability of those same pharmaceutical firms …
    [There are] many successive incidents that have come to light which have resulted in scientific pharmaceutical research having very low credibility. 

    Could you please substantiate these 5 claims with evidence? For the 2nd one I’d agree that scientists cannot rely on their pre-training intuition in these areas, but that might not be all you intended to say. For the 4th one I’m wondering in which nation(s) the “most people” claim is correct (which I’d expect to be backed up by the percentages). I’m prepared to imagine you having good evidence for these claims; and, if you do, I imagine your cases for 1 and 5 will largely overlap, and similarly with 2 and 3.

  4. Uncomfortably close to paranoia/conspiracy theory. As for implying scientists have little understanding of stats and probability theory that is just insulting and a bit arrogant, IMO. All scientific training MUST have a strong base in mathematics, obviously. 
    If Pete H is so anti-science, what’s his alternative? And what is he doing on RDFRS? 

  5. Are you posting from some time in the pre-Lister past? I can think of about a dozen hip or knee replacements in persons of my acquaintance over the last few years, all without the complications you fear. Nosocomial infections are a problem, to be sure, but (at least in the hospitals in my century) the risk-benefit equation still favors necessary procedures.
    Steve

  6. We have had a pertusis epedemic in UK this year. What many adults do not realise is that vaccination as a child will not prevent you developing the disease later in life. I got it this year and whilst it wasn’t as serious as it would be for a minor ( you don’t get the full ‘whoop’ for instance) having the ‘hundred day cough’ wasn’t fun.
    So pregnant women should definitely get inoculated for this. 

  7. Unfortunately yes.
    We really are still living in that pre-antiseptic era.Now that tiny, HD, hi capacity memory, motion sensitive cameras with long battery life are available it is possible to accumulate data on clinical practise that has been previously impractical to obtain.The news isn’t good for the likes of physicians in Australian hospitals.Same applies to workers preparing food.You don’t often get to hear about this stuff because it can involve politically incorrect implications for various racial, sex, and age groups. Not to mention the privacy considerations.

    The issue with knee and hip surgery is that it’s very messy from a butchery perspective. Scope for infection is relatively high and procedures are fiddly prolonged. There’s a few other associated issues. Off the top of my head you might want to consider the problem with autoclaves. These gadgets are relatively simple. But now that pretty much everything is manufactured in China, and lowest price is necessarily the winning tender in most cash-strapped medical facilities, there are a few issues regarding reliable functioning. This gear is seldom tested. It’s like your microwave at home. If the food comes out hot it must be OK. The support techs often don’t even speak English. Outcome can be marginally inadequate sterilisation between patients. Combine that with our pre-Lister attitude to handwashing and no amount of pre-op procedures, clean rooms etc. will make enough difference.

    The ops are probably safe enough for now. But the outlook for antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals is not good. The article I read was speculating on how things might be in 10 years time, based on present trends with antibiotic resistant bacteria. It may not happen though. Perhaps new antibiotics will flow through the system in time. But given that there’s revenue yet to be milked from the current crop of antibiotics which are actually causing the resistance problem then you’d have to be pessimistic.

    A better approach than surgical intervention after damage has occurred might be to try and understand what causes knee and hip wear, i.e. what is the cause of the lack of effective maintenance and repair of these tissues.

  8. Hey, I’m not anti-science. There isn’t an alternative.

    But I still think it’s important to remain aware that there’s more to science than superficial labels. Just because someone is a scientists doesn’t imply that what they produce is valuable science.

    And situations often do arise involving large amounts of money and many people are involved who might benefit from some form of deception, or at least from only superficial rigor in analysis. E.g. Ceasing to obtain further data once the right answer pops up. This might not be an overt conspiracy. Perhaps it’s more of a herd effect. A social phenomenon where people acting in concert for mutual benefit. But you may as well call it a conspiracy, even if unintentional and unconscious.And I’m not implying that scientists have little understanding of stats and probability. Just that scientists are people too, and any normal person is inherently unable to avoid thinking according to their instinctive intuition.There is a difference between training (as in attending the specified courses at uni) and real training (generating dominant neural pathways and modifying instinctive behavior to add capabilities.)It’s like the difference between learning harmony theory and being able to apply it in a controlled situation, compared to improvising jazz in a highly volatile, dynamic and uncontrolled situation.There’s a level beyond initial understanding that involves routine performance.

  9. Yes, there’s considerable overlap.

    For the lack of effectiveness of various medications there’s pretty much something along these lines identified on a daily basis. A trivial example I noticed yesterday was evidence that EPO doesn’t provide any detectable benefits to athletes like Lance Armstrong. Valid scientific evidence isn’t necessary to sell (or even illegally ‘supply’) such products. The real issue is compliance with regulatory processes.

    If you’re interested in  specific outrages then Ben Goldacre has a long list of examples in his blog / books.

    There’s no shortage of qualified scientists willing to sell their name for publications to assist in regulatory compliance. It’s nothing to do with science or ethics or misunderstanding stats – they just need the money.

    And for the incidents which impinge on the credibility of pharmaceutical testing there’s been numerous disasters, which would be highlighted on any anti-vaccination group’s or conspiracy theorist’s blog. These will be exceptions but, being bad news, that’s what people tend to notice and it’s this information frames their overall perceptions.

    But the most obvious source of evidence would have to be what people can see with their own eyes and their own family and friend’s experiences. There are drugs for treating every medical condition imaginable. Yet there is an extraordinary global NCD epidemic emerging that appears to be completely unmitigated by the plethora of sophisticated treatments. This epidemic is extremely good news to the pharmaceutical industry – and the extremely positive investment return outlook would be the basis for including these business in many long term investment portfolios. But from a consumer results perspective it’s probably reasonable to assume that the prevailing pharmaceutical approach to the NCD epidemic is completely missing the point. Yet that’s where all the investment and ROI is to be found.

    NB. The ROI is revenue from sales of effectively useless remedies, not from the benefits arising to consumers who purchase these pharmaceuticals. But there is much money at stake, and anyone has their price. Including some scientists. Effectively we’re dealing with some kind of pseudoscience or religious cult of medicine and pharmacology rather than a scientific approach to health.

    As for statistics and probability. Simply knowing about how this stuff works and having once gained an awareness of cognitive biases does not significantly affect how people actually think at some future time. If anything a little knowledge can be dangerous to the extent that familiarity can lead to incompetence. It doesn’t matter what training people have, it always remains very difficult to overcome natural modes of thinking and doing so requires practise. The most obvious issue is ‘correlation is not causation’. Nevertheless that’s actually how people really think, so this logical flaw inevitably slips as an implication into conclusions, if only unconsciously and unintentionally. Any prominent skeptic / magician has discussed this at length. E.g. Derren Brown, James Randi. I think it was Randi who claimed that scientists tended to be more gullible and easier to fool than non-scientists.

    Pharmaceutical industries benefit from this in that their largest revenue categories, at least as I understand it and assuming I’ve not been misinformed, is (or recently was) cholesterol lowering drugs and prior to that was stomach ulcer treatments. You might not be aware of this but the entire area of cholesterol, aside from a tiny minority of people with rare conditions, really is some kind of conspiracy.

    The prolonged delay in releasing anti-cholesterol drugs as a replacement revenue category may have contributed to why a Nobel Prize winning breakthrough on ulcer treatment remained unaccepted by the medical community for so long, regardless of the overwhelming scientific evidence. Again, folks preferred to the money ahead of the credibility. And everyone else was doing it, so why not them too. And as the saying goes: it is very difficult to get someone to understand something when their livelihood depends on their not understanding it.

    Regarding pension funds, yes, what I said is essentially incorrect in that most people in the world actually don’t have pension plans. But for those few in parts of the civilised world who might be involved in typical major retail superannuation schemes (or what’s left of them), employing default investment diversification, then it is very unlikely that some of the largest and most profitable business in the world would be absent from their fund mangers’ portfolios.

  10.  All scientific training MUST have a strong base in mathematics, obviously.  

     

    Sadly the facts don’t bear out what you think is obvious. I just looked up a degree in Evolutionary Biology at a major Australian University and the only rmathematics and statistics requirement is half of a first year calculus and linear algebra course and an introductory course in statistics.  This is what a mathematics major would get through in their first semester. Bear in mind also that what the students need to do is pass those courses so arguably they need to know 50% or less of the material.

    Just in case it was Australia that was the issue I had a quick look at a major west coast US university with the same result.

    Michael

  11.  A trivial example I noticed yesterday was evidence that EPO doesn’t provide any detectable benefits to athletes like Lance Armstrong. 

    I’m not convinced by that report.  The anecdotal (yes, yes, I know) evidence of the riders is that the effect was strong and riders like George Hincapie reported not being able to keep up with the pelaton at the height of the doping.  I guess it could be placebo but it was one hell of a placebo.  Or maybe it was the blood transfusion, testosterone etc. Something worked as the Tour de France is a lot less exciting than it used to be to watch.

    Michael

  12. Doping isn’t always a positive strategy. There’s a negative approach sometimes available.
    If a winning team can obtain clandestine control over the event catering then anything is possible, as long as the winners stick to take away fast food.Though as far as I know there has only ever been one major international sporting event where this occurred. Being the South African team winning the rugby world cup. (Subject of movie Invictus starring Matt Damon.)And placebos should never be under-rated. Even rumours that one team has some kind of illegal secret weapon can be mentally detrimental to competitors. The history of competition is full of examples where some prized innovation made all the difference on the day yet proved to have been detrimental when fully analysed long after the event. E.g. the original winged keel when an Australian team won the America’s Cup.Another example is the soccer player in a penalty shoot-out who, before taking the shot at goal, took out a document hidden in his sock and carefully read it in front of the goal keeper. Supposedly it was some kind of statistical analysis of the defending players habits in similar situations. Would have had no real effect on the attack or defense strategy but might have completely confounded the goal keeper and added a few microseconds of reaction time hesitancy to his response.

  13. I might be a bit sensitive to this particular topic, perhaps because of a childhood experience with whooping cough. It was one of the handful of occasions when I really thought I was about to die.

    This epidemic is also happening also in NSW. Here’s a news link:

    http://www.smh.com.au/national

    Interesting that one of the researchers quoted believes that the anti-vax people have neglible impact. The real reasons for diminishing community immunity are a combination of change in vaccine (to be less effective and less enduring but with less incidence of side effects) and increasing poverty in parts of Sydney.

  14. having worked in the industry for nearly 20 years in the UK we are about the most highly regulated industry in the world after arms makers and nuclear power generation. I legally have to report ANY side-effect reported to me by customers and would probably be fired if I failed to do so.
    All the doctors I see say the absolute limiter of the efficacy of medicines is the abilty/inability of patients taking their medicine correctly and often can predict which ones will respond to treatment purely on that basis. this is compounded by an ageing population where older people are on three or more tablets and they all have to be taken differently (with food/without food/morning/evening/once a day/twice a day etc.etc.etc.). Hence the main drive is always towards simplicity.
    Drugs for cardiovascular disease have been so successful in western Europe that in many countries CVD has been overtaken by cancer as the main cause of mortality, the rate of heart attack in middle aged men in particular has dropped hugely over the last thirty years despite them becoming fatter, taking less exercise and drinking more (though the decline in smoking esp. in professional men has also helped).

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