Vaccines cut death rates

Prevention

In Brief

November 15, 2007

Death rates for 13 diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccinations are at all-time lows in the United States, according to a study released this week.

The study, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first time that the agency has searched historical records going back to 1900 to compile estimates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths for all the diseases children are routinely vaccinated against.

In nine of the diseases, rates of death or hospitalization declined more than 90 percent since vaccines against them were approved, and in the cases of smallpox, diphtheria and polio, by 100 percent.

In only four diseases -- hepatitis A and B, invasive pneumococcal diseases and varicella (the cause of chickenpox and shingles) -- did deaths and hospitalizations fall less than 90 percent.

Dr. Robert W. Sears, an Orange County, Calif., pediatrician who writes popular medicine books for parents, including a new one on vaccines, said the study showed "one of the very positive aspects of vaccination."

Public health officials are involved in a continuing struggle with anti-vaccine activists who contend that children's shots trigger autism, seizures or other serious side effects, and that private pediatricians often cannot make time to answer all the questions worried parents have, Sears said.

A spokesman for the CDC, Curtis Allen, said the study had not been done to counter groups that oppose vaccines, "but it does show conclusively the value of vaccines."

New York Times News Service

Diseases

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis rates on rise in United States

More than 1 million cases of chlamydia were reported in the United States last year -- the most ever reported for a sexually transmitted disease, federal health officials said this week.

"A new U.S. record," said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr. of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More bad news: Gonorrhea rates are jumping again after hitting a record low, and an increasing number of cases are caused by a "superbug" version resistant to common antibiotics, according to federal officials.

Syphilis is rising, too. The rate of congenital syphilis -- which can deform or kill babies -- rose for the first time in 15 years.

"Hopefully we will not see this turn into a trend," said Dr. Khalil Ghanem, an infectious diseases specialist at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine.

The CDC releases a report each year on chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, three diseases caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.

Chlamydia is the most common. Nearly 1,031,000 cases were reported last year, up from 976,000 the year before.

The count broke the single-year record for reported cases of a sexually transmitted disease, which was 1,013,436 cases of gonorrhea, set in 1978.

CDC officials say the chlamydia record may be a result of better and more intensive screening.

Associated Press

Smoking

Young marijuana users who don't smoke cigarettes studied

Young people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to move on to marijuana, studies have shown for years. So common is that pattern that it's called the gateway theory of drug use. Now, Swiss researchers are among the first to look at the characteristics of teens who use marijuana but don't, and never have, smoked cigarettes.

The researchers looked at 5,263 Swiss students ages 16 to 20 and found that about one-fifth of those who smoked marijuana never smoked cigarettes. Those who smoked cannabis and not tobacco were more likely to play sports, live with both parents and do well in school than those who smoked both substances, according to the study in the November Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

When compared with students who didn't smoke anything, marijuana users were more social, but they also were more likely to take risks and less likely than abstainers to have good relationships with their parents.

In the new study, the majority of marijuana users, about 80 percent, still followed the classic pattern of smoking tobacco first, then adding marijuana. "But not everyone follows traditional pathways, and this alternative pathway may be important," says Dr. Wilson Compton, researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which was not involved in the Swiss study.

Los Angeles Times

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