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The common pill that’s killing in the shadow of the opioid crisis

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Wendy Golden with photos of her son Kody Cook at her home in Amherst, N.S. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

To this day, Wendy Golden has no idea why her son Kody Cook chose to swallow what he did on June 24, 2014. Sure, he smoked weed and liked his Budweiser, but the autopsy would later classify him as a “naive” user. In other words, he was hardly an addict.

That night, around 11 p.m., Golden arrived back at her Amherst, N.S., home after her shift at a local convenience store to find Kody lying on her couch. When she went to rouse the 20-year-old to go to bed, she realized he wasn’t breathing.

“When the ambulance arrived, I said, ‘Please, whatever you do, don’t let him go. I can’t lose another son,'” says Golden, who had another son die in a 2009 house fire. “That’s the way it was meant to be, I guess.”

A mix of prescription drugs

In the following hours the story of what happened became clear. A co-worker at the fish plant where Kody worked in Grand-Barachois, N.B., had given him a dose of his prescription methadone and a second drug, a sedative called clonazepam, part of a group of medications known as benzodiazepines.

Witnesses heard him tell Kody that he now owed him $7, in the same way someone might exchange a favour for a cup of coffee.

Golden said she looked for the co-worker who shared prescription drugs with Kody to share responsibility. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

From illicit fentanyl being smuggled into the country to painkiller pills being sold between friends to the misuse of addiction-treatment medications like methadone, more than 9,000 Canadians have died over the last three years from an opioid-related overdose. Thousands more were hospitalized.

But lost in much of the public discussion is the largely overlooked role being played by a different kind of drug, benzodiazepines, particularly in areas of the country like Nova Scotia where the overdose problem continues to be primarily driven by prescription medications diverted into the illegal drug market.

Prescribing medications that kill

The harsh truth, according to addiction experts, is an ill-equipped health-care system is partly to blame. Too many family and acute-care doctors don’t have the training to treat addictions. Some are even prescribing medications that could ultimately kill their patients.

Benzodiazepines have been used since the 1960s to treat seizures, insomnia and anxiety. They include common medications like diazepam, lorazepam and clonazepam, the same drug that helped kill Kody Cook. The big brand names are ubiquitous: Valium, Ativan and Xanax.

Such medications work on different receptors in the central nervous system than opioids. However, both potentially depress the respiratory system and, when taken together, work “synergistically” with sometimes lethal consequences. Breathing can slow to a stop.

“There’s really good evidence that if you give benzodiazepines together with opioids you increase the risk of death by intoxication,” says Dr. Matthew Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner. “That certainly bears out in our experience here in the morgue.”

Dr. Matthew Bowes, chief medical examiner of Nova Scotia, says he has seen that mixing benzodiazepines with opioids can increase the risk of death by intoxication. (Robert Short/CBC)

It bears out in statistics, too. In Nova Scotia, benzodiazepines contributed to death in well over half of the 442 opioid-related fatalities from 2011 to the end of October, most of them accidental overdoses.

The ratio is similar in New Brunswick. In Manitoba, it is above 40 per cent. In Ontario, one study that looked at data up to 2015 found benzodiazepines in half of opioid-related deaths.

Warning in U.S. over benzodiazepines

There are no pan-Canadian numbers, and it appears the role of benzodiazepines is less prevalent in some areas hard hit by the fentanyl epidemic. In Alberta, for instance, they contribute to death in relatively few cases.

Still, 30 per cent of opioid-related deaths in the United States involve a benzodiazepine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Federal officials in the U.S. have even issued a “black box warning” — the most severe of all warnings —  about the risks of combining certain opioids with benzodiazepines.

“The problem’s not new,” says Dave Martell, a doctor from Lunenburg, N.S., who specializes in addiction treatment and runs several rural clinics in the southern part of the province.

“I think we’re just uncovering benzodiazepines as an issue because we’re just starting to look at it. They’ve actually been problematic in terms of prescribing practices since the 1970s. It’s been a hidden thing.”

Opioid users may have mental-health issues they are medicating with benzodiazepines. In other cases, patients on benzodiazepines for anxiety or insomnia may be injured in a car accident or at work, and be prescribed opioids for pain.

People addicted to opioids often face a roller-coaster of having a supply and then running out. Running out means withdrawal, which leads to panic attacks, restlessness and the feeling of being hit by the worst flu imaginable.

Desperate for relief, they reach for anything. Some buy anti-anxiety drugs off the street. Others turn to family physicians or emergency room doctors, walking out with prescriptions for benzodiazepines. When they return to opioids, the combination can be lethal.

“In this current overdose epidemic, what it’s done really is pull back the curtain to really show that we don’t have a functioning addictions system,” according to Dr. Keith Ahamad, a family doctor and researcher at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use. “In fact, the health-care system is really worsening the situation.”

Clonazepam combined with methadone is what led to the death of Kody Cook on June 24, 2014, in Amherst, N.S. (Alex Lynch/CBC)

As part of his work, Ahamad and a group of researchers followed a cohort of nearly 3,000 intravenous drug users in downtown Vancouver from 1996 until 2013. They found those who also used benzodiazepines were more likely to die.

Another study that looked at 2,833 opioid-related deaths in Ontario from 2013 to 2016 found that in about 30 per cent of cases, the victim had an active benzodiazepine prescription. In hundreds of cases they were also being prescribed an opioid at the same time.

Fentanyl crisis has diverted attention

Tara Gomes, a co-author of the report, says there’s a growing awareness of the risk of taking the two drugs together. However, while abuse of prescribed opioids has been known as a problem for years, the conversation has swiftly moved on to the fentanyl crisis gripping parts of Canada.

“We can’t ignore this huge surge of deaths in fentanyl, and that is obviously an alarming fact that we have to address right now,” says Gomes, a drug policy researcher with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “But what we’re also noticing is there isn’t a huge change in the rate of opioid-related deaths from prescribed opioids.” 

Ernie LeBlanc, father of Jason LeBlanc, 42, says his son long battled addiction before his overdose death in a Cape Breton Correctional Facility cell. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Jason Marcel LeBlanc had a bag in his pocket full of the benzodiazepine bromezapam when he died in the early hours of Jan. 31, 2016, in a holding cell at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility in Sydney, N.S.

Guards at the jail had failed to find the pills when he arrived 14 hours earlier after being picked up by police for a parole violation. He’d taken illicitly bought methadone before his arrest, and video from his cell appeared to show him downing some of the bromezapam. The combination killed him.

His father, Ernie LeBlanc, says his 42-year-old son suffered bouts of severe anxiety related to his long struggle with an opioid addiction that had started when he worked in the West. He was self-medicating with “nerve pills” bought off the street.

Anxiety among addicts

“Your anxiety gets that bad, you’ve got to have something to help you,” says LeBlanc. “Just like if you’re an alcoholic. If you’re an alcoholic and you’re dying for a drink and your nerves get bad, and this gets bad — anxiety — first thing they’re going to have to do is have a drink, isn’t it?”

The cocktail of benzodiazepines and opioids can be so deadly that the combination has even been used to put prisoners to death in the U.S.

In 2014, Ohio executed convicted killer Dennis McGuire using the benzodiazepine midazolam, a surgical sedative, and the opioid hydromorphone. It took him 25 minutes to die and he appeared to gasp for breath. The same combination was also used later that year in Arizona. In that case, it took two hours.

Xanax is a benzodiazepine. After police intercept a supply of opioids, people often come to the emergency room and get a prescription for benzodiazepine to help with their withdrawal. (Alex Lynch/CBC)

It’s believed about 500,000 benzodiazepine prescriptions are dispensed each year in Nova Scotia. This fall, Nova Scotia added the drug group to its prescription monitoring program, which tracks the dispensing of certain medications and can flag worrisome amounts or treatments.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, says it’s been long known that benzodiazepines are being over-prescribed and overused. The drugs have a limited set of uses, he says, and are mostly meant to be taken only short term.

Martell, the addictions doctor on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, is more blunt: “With this prescription monitor doing this new monitoring, I think they’re going to uncover things that are kind of horrifying and just ignored because the opioid crisis is kind of taking the headlines away from every other problem in the health-care system.”

Doctors may not know potential impact

He says in his area a police drug bust that temporarily chokes out the street supply of opioids will often be followed by a “flood” of people to local emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, seeking something that will temper the misery of withdrawal. Too often, he says, they get it.

“Saying, ‘If you just take this Valium or Ativan, this will help you while you’re going through your withdrawal.’ Not realizing that what they’re giving them is a supply of something that could potentially kill them combined with the drug that they’re having trouble trying to get away from.”

Originally from Arichat, N.S., Martell says he “fumbled into” addictions medicine while beginning to set up a family practice in Lunenburg about 14 years ago. He didn’t have a large patient roster, so he offered to work at the local hospital detox unit, which had been without a doctor for years.

He struggled at first, with little training or background in how to help his patients. What he discovered, he says, is that learning to treat addiction isn’t hard, and he’s optimistic Nova Scotia is making strides in that area of doctor education.

But early on, he did have a number of patients die of overdoses, and became “acutely aware” of what can happen when benzodiazepines are combined with opioids. “When somebody dies, especially somebody young, you tend to remember that.”

Kody Cook, left, had been planning a move to Moncton, N.B., before his death. (Submitted by Wendy Golden)

Wendy Golden now lives in a small white bungalow on the outskirts of Amherst with a cat and two rescue dogs. There are no photos of her son Kody on the walls. She used to have a shrine to him, but put it in storage. It had, in her words, become “unhealthy.”

But her memories of him are vivid — his loyalty, honesty and unique sense of humour. How he was making his way in his young life, preparing to move away from home to nearby Moncton, N.B.

Her message now is simple: don’t share or sell prescriptions.

“You don’t know what that person took earlier. They already may be on a medication that can mix with the medication you have. And the combination can be lethal.”

After Kody died, she urged police to investigate. There were initially jurisdictional issues, because the drugs had been consumed in New Brunswick but the death was in Nova Scotia. Then there was the question of whether charges could be laid.

Man charged in Kody’s death

But she persisted. Kody alone made the choice he did that day, she says, and lost his life over $7 of prescription drugs. But she didn’t want her son to be looked on as “another druggie.” And she felt the co-worker who sold to him should be held responsible for the part he played.

“That’s why I chose to fight to have something done,” she says.

In December 2015, that co-worker, a man named Neil Calder, was charged with manslaughter and drug trafficking. Six months later he pleaded guilty and was handed two years and two months in prison. His sentence officially ended in September.

Golden remembers him apologizing in court, saying he had never meant for Kody to die. She didn’t realize it at the time, but the apology would make things easier.

“That’s all I wanted him to do in the beginning, was stand up and say, ‘Yes, it was mine.’ Take responsibility for his actions,” Golden says. “That was enough for me.”

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Sweet! Here are 7 reasons to eat sweet potatoes

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(Natural News) Sweet potatoes may not be as popular as regular potatoes, which is too bad — since they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup of sweet potatoes can provide more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin A. It’s also rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and manganese. Both purple and orange varieties contain antioxidants that can protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.

Eating sweet potatoes is beneficial for your health

Sweet potatoes are brimming with micronutrients and antioxidants —  making them useful to your health. Below is a list of reasons why you should incorporate sweet potatoes into your diet.

They improve brain function

The purple variety of sweet potato contains anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have revealed that anthocyanins are effective at improving cognitive function. Moreover, the results suggest that purple yams can help protect against memory loss. Antioxidants from the purple variety safeguard the brain against damage from free radicals and inflammation.

They aid digestion

Sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fiber. This macronutrient prevents constipation, diarrhea, and bloating by adding bulk and drawing water to the stool. In addition, fiber keeps a healthy balance in the gut by promoting the growth of good bacteria.

They slow down aging

The beta-carotene in orange sweet potatoes can help reduce damage caused by prolonged sun exposure. This is especially true for people diagnosed with erythropoietic protoporphyria and other photosensitive diseases. Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants that protect against free radical damage. Free radicals are not only linked to diseases but also premature aging.

They boost the immune system

Orange and purple sweet potatoes are loaded with a good number of antioxidants that help protect the body from harmful molecules that cause inflammation and damage DNA. This, in turn, protects the body from chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

They can prevent cancer

Eating sweet potatoes can help protect against various types of cancers. The compounds in sweet potatoes restrict the development of cancer cells. Test tube studies have shown that anthocyanins can prevent cancers in the bladder, breast, colon, and stomach.

They lower blood sugar

Despite its relatively high glycemic index, studies have shown that the regular intake of sweet potatoes can help lower blood sugar, thanks to the presence of dietary fiber. While fiber falls under carbohydrates, it is digested differently, compared to starchy and sugary forms of carbohydrates. Interestingly, insulin doesn’t process fiber (unlike other types which get turned into glucose), and it only passes through the digestive tract.

They promote healthy vision

Orange sweet potatoes are rich in a compound called beta-carotene, an antioxidant which transforms into vitamin A in the body. Adequate intake of vitamin A promotes eye health. Conversely, deficiencies in vitamin A have been linked to a particular type of blindness called xerophthalmia.

Sweet potatoes are easy to incorporate into your everyday meals. They are best prepared boiled but can also be baked, roasted, or steamed — they can even replace other carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, and toast. (Related: Understanding the phytochemical and nutrient content of sweet potato flours from Vietnam.)

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Frostbite: What it is and how to identify, treat it

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Manitoba’s temperature has plummeted to its coldest level this season, triggering warnings about the extreme risk of frostbite.

Oh, we know it’s cold. We can feel Jack Frost nipping at our noses. But what about when he gnaws a little harder — what exactly does “frostbite” mean?

People tend to underestimate the potential for severe injuries in the cold, says the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. We laugh off the sting of the deep freeze, rub our hands back from the brink of numbness and wear our survival proudly like a badge.

That’s because, in most cases, frostbite can be treated fairly easily, with no long-term effects.

But it can also lead to serious injury, including permanent numbness or tingling, joint stiffness, or muscle weakness. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation.

Bitter cold can cause frostbite in just minutes. Here’s how to recognize the warning signs and treat them. 0:59

Here’s a guide to identifying the first signs, how to treat them, and when to seek medical help.

What is frostbite and frostnip?

Frostbite is defined as bodily injury caused by freezing that results in loss of feeling and colour in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes — those areas most often exposed to the air.

Cooling of the body causes a narrowing of the blood vessels, slowing blood flow. In temperatures below –4 C, ice crystals can form in the skin and the tissue just below it.

Frostnip most commonly affects the hands and feet. It initially causes cold, burning pain, with the area affected becoming blanched. It is easy to treat and with rewarming, the area becomes reddened.

Frostbite is the acute version of frostnip, when the soft tissue actually freezes. The risk is particularly dangerous on days with a high wind chill factor. If not quickly and properly treated, it can lead to the loss of tissues or even limbs. 

Signs of frostbite

Health officials call them the four P’s:

  • Pink: Skin appears reddish in colour, and this is usually the first sign.
  • Pain: The cold becomes painful on skin.
  • Patches: White, waxy-feeling patches show when skin is dying.
  • Prickles: Affected areas feel numb or have reduced sensation.

Symptoms can also include:

  • Reduced body temperature.
  • Swelling.
  • Blisters.
  • Areas that are initially cold, hard to the touch.

Take quick action

If you do get frostbite, it is important to take quick action.

  • Most cases of frostbite can be treated by heating the exposed area in warm (not hot) water.
  • Immersion in warm water should continue for 20-30 minutes until the exposed area starts to turn pink, indicating the return of blood circulation.
  • Use a warm, wet washcloth on frostbitten nose or earlobes.
  • If you don’t have access to warm water, underarms are a good place to warm frostbitten fingers. For feet, put them against a warm person’s skin.
  • Drink hot fluids such as hot chocolate, coffee or tea when warming.
  • Rest affected limbs and avoid irritation to the skin.
  • E​levate the affected limb once it is rewarmed.

Rewarming can take up to an hour and can be painful, especially near the end of the process as circulation returns. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help with the discomfort.

Do not …

There are a number of things you should avoid:

  • Do not warm the area with dry heat, such as a heating pad, heat lamp or electric heater, because frostbitten skin is easily burned.
  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. This can cause more damage.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not walk on your feet or toes if they are frozen.
  • Do not break blisters.

Seek immediate medical attention

While you can treat frostbite yourself if the symptoms are minor — the skin is red, there is tingling — you should seek immediate medical attention at an emergency department if:

  • The exposed skin is blackened.
  • You see white-coloured or grey-coloured patches.
  • There is severe pain or the area is completely numb.
  • The skin feels unusually firm and is not sensitive to touch after one hour of rewarming.
  • There are large areas of blistering.
  • There is a bluish discolouration that does not resolve with rewarming.

Be prepared

The best way to avoid frostbite is to be prepared for the weather in the first place.

Wear several loose layers of clothing rather than a single, thick layer to provide good insulation and keep moisture away from your skin.

The outer garment should breathe but be waterproof and windproof, with an inner thermal layer. Retain body heat with a hat and scarf. Mittens are warmer than gloves because they keep the fingers together.

Be sure your clothing protects your head, ears, nose, hands and feet, especially for children.

Wind chill and frostbite rates

Wind chill: 0 to –9.
Frostbite risk: Low.

Wind chill: –28 to –39.
Frostbite risk: Moderate.

Exposed skin can freeze in 10-30 minutes

Wind chill: –40 to –47.
Frostbite risk: High.

Exposed skin can freeze in five to 10 minutes.

Wind chill: –48 to –54.
Frostbite risk: Very High.

Exposed skin can freeze in two to five minutes.

Wind chill: –55 and lower.
Frostbite risk: Extremely High.

Exposed skin can freeze in less than two minutes.
 

NOTE: In sustained winds over 50 km/h, frostbite can occur faster than indicated.

Source: Environment Canada

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Awkward Flu Jabs Attempted at Golden Globes

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In what can only be described as a new level of propaganda, hosts Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh featured a flu shot stunt during the 76th Golden Globe Awards ceremony. They told the audience to roll up their sleeves, as they would all be getting flu shots, while people in white coats stormed down the aisles, syringes in hand.

Most of the audience looked thoroughly uneasy at the prospect of having a stranger stick them with a needle in the middle of an awards show. But perhaps the worst part of the scene was when Samberg added that anti-vaxxers could put a napkin over their head if they wanted to be skipped, basically suggesting that anyone opposed to a flu shot deserved to be branded with a proverbial scarlet letter.

The flu shots, for the record, were reportedly fake,1 nothing more than a bizarre gag that left many people stunned by the Globe’s poor taste in turning a serious medical choice into a publicity gimmick.

Flu Shot Stunt Reeks of Desperation

Whoever came up with the idea to turn the Golden Globes into a platform for a public health message probably thought it was ingenious, but the stunt only serves as a seemingly desperate attempt to make flu shots relevant and in vogue. During the 2017 to 2018 flu season, only 37 percent of U.S. adults received a flu shot, a 6 percent drop from the prior season.2

“To improve flu vaccination coverage for the 2018-19 flu season, health care providers are encouraged to strongly recommend and offer flu vaccination to all of their patients,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote. “People not visiting a provider during the flu season have many convenient places they can go for a flu vaccination.”3

Yet, perhaps the decline in people choosing to get vaccinated has nothing to do with convenience and everything to do with their dismal rates of efficacy. In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the influenza vaccine was less than 50 percent effective more than half of the time.4

The 2017/2018 flu vaccine was a perfect example of this trend. The overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against influenza A and B virus infection was just 36 percent.5

Health officials blamed the flu season’s severity on the dip in vaccination rates, but as Dr. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told USA Today, “[I]t is also true that the vaccine was not as well matched against the strains that circulated.”6

But bringing flu shots to the Golden Globes, and calling out “anti-vaxxers,” is nothing more than “medical care, by shame,” noted Dr. Don Harte, a chiropractic activist in California. “But it was entertaining, in a very weird way, including the shock and disgust of some of the intended victims, notably [Willem Dafoe],” he said, adding:7

“This Hollywood publicity stunt for the flu vaccine is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen from celebrities. But it does go with the flu shot itself, which is, perhaps, the stupidest of all the vaccines available.”

Did 80,000 People Really Die From the Flu Last Year?

The CDC reported that 79,400 people died from influenza during the 2017/2018 season, which they said “serves as a reminder of how severe seasonal influenza can be.”8 It’s important to remember, however, that the 80,000 deaths figure being widely reported in the media is not actually all “flu deaths.”

According to the CDC, “We look at death certificates that have pneumonia or influenza causes (P&I), other respiratory and circulatory causes (R&C), or other nonrespiratory, noncirculatory causes of death, because deaths related to flu may not have influenza listed as a cause of death.”9

As for why the CDC doesn’t base flu mortality estimates only on death certificates that list influenza, they noted, “Seasonal influenza may lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease … Additionally, some deaths — particularly among the elderly — are associated with secondary complications of seasonal influenza (including bacterial pneumonias).”10

In other words, “flu deaths” are not just deaths directly caused by the influenza virus, but also secondary infections such as pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, as well as sepsis.11

According to the CDC, most of the deaths occurred among those aged 65 years and over, a population that may already have preexisting conditions that makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases. As Harte said of annual flu deaths, “[M]ost if not all, I would assume, are of people who are already in very bad shape.12

CDC Claims Flu Vaccine Reduces Flu Deaths in the Elderly — But Does It?

Since people aged 65 and over are those most at risk from flu complications and death, the CDC has been vocal in their claims that the flu shot significantly reduces flu-related deaths among this population. The research, however, says otherwise.

Research published in 2005 found no correlation between increased vaccination rates among the elderly and reduced mortality. According to the authors, “Because fewer than 10 percent of all winter deaths were attributable to influenza in any season, we conclude that observational studies substantially overestimate vaccination benefit.”13

A 2006 study also showed that even though seniors vaccinated against influenza had a 44 percent reduced risk of dying during flu season than unvaccinated seniors, those who were vaccinated were also 61 percent less like to die before the flu season ever started.14

This finding has since been attributed to a “healthy user effect,” which suggests that older people who get vaccinated against influenza are already healthier and, therefore, less likely to die anyway, whereas those who do not get the shot have suffered a decline in health in recent months.

Journalist Jeremy Hammond summed up the CDC’s continued spreading of misinformation regarding the flu vaccine’s effectiveness in the elderly, as they continue to claim it’s the best way to prevent the flu:15

[T]here is no good scientific evidence to support the CDC’s claim that the influenza vaccine reduces hospitalizations or deaths among the elderly.

The types of studies the CDC has relied on to support this claim have been thoroughly discredited due to their systemic ‘healthy user’ selection bias, and the mortality rate has observably increased along with the increase in vaccine uptake — which the CDC has encouraged with its unevidenced claims about the vaccine’s benefits, downplaying of its risks, and a marketing strategy of trying to frighten people into getting the flu shot for themselves and their family.”

Death of Vaccinated Child Blamed on Not Getting Second Dose

In January 2019, the state of Colorado reported the first child flu death of the 2018/2019 flu season — a child who had received influenza vaccination. But instead of highlighting the vaccine’s failure and clear limitations, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment blamed the death on the child being only “partially vaccinated.”

“It’s an unfortunate but important reminder of the importance of two doses of influenza vaccine for young children who are receiving influenza vaccine for the first time,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, who is the state communicable disease epidemiologist, said in a news release.16 For those who aren’t aware, the CDC notes that one dose of flu shot may not be enough to protect against the flu. Instead, they state:17

“Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season …

The first dose ‘primes’ the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine.”

Not only may the flu vaccine fail to provide protection against the flu, but many people are not aware that other types of viruses are responsible for about 80 percent of all respiratory infections during any given flu season.18 The flu vaccine does not protect against or prevent any of these other types of respiratory infections causing influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms.

The chance of contracting actual type A or B influenza, caused by one of the three or four influenza virus strains included in the vaccine, is much lower compared to getting sick with another type of viral or bacterial infection during the flu season.

Does Flu Vaccine Increase the Risk of Influenza Infection, Contribute to Vaccine Shedding?

There are serious adverse effects that can come along with annual flu vaccination, including potentially lifelong side effects such as Guillain Barré syndrome and chronic shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA). They may also increase your risk of contracting more serious flu infections, as research suggests those who have been vaccinated annually may be less protected than those with no prior flu vaccination history.19

Research presented at the 105th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego also revealed that children who get seasonal flu shots are more at risk of hospitalization than children who do not. Children who had received the flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization as children who had not. Among children with asthma, the risk was even higher.20

There’s also the potential for vaccine shedding, which has taken on renewed importance with the reintroduction of the live virus vaccine FluMist during the 2018/2019 season. While the CDC states that the live flu virus in FluMist is too weak to actually give recipients the flu, research has raised some serious doubts that this is the case.

One recent study revealed not only that influenza virus may be spread via simple breathing (i.e., no sneezing or coughing required) but also that repeated vaccination increases the amount of virus released into the air.21

MedImmune, the company that developed FluMist, is aware that the vaccine sheds vaccine-strain virus. In its prescribing information, they describe a study on the transmission of vaccine-strain viruses from vaccinated children to nonvaccinated children in a day care setting.

In 80 percent of the FluMist recipients, at least one vaccine-strain virus was isolated anywhere from one to 21 days following vaccination. They further noted, “One placebo subject had mild symptomatic Type B virus infection confirmed as a transmitted vaccine virus by a FluMist recipient in the same playgroup.”22

Are There Other Ways to Stay Healthy During Flu Season?

Contrary to the CDC’s and Golden Globe’s claims that flu vaccinations are a great way to prevent flu, other methods exist to help you stay healthy during the flu season and all year, and they’re far safer than annual flu vaccination. Vitamin D testing and optimization have been shown to cut your risk of respiratory infections, including colds and flu, in half if you are vitamin D deficient, for instance.23,24

In my view, optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the absolute best respiratory illness prevention and optimal health strategies available. Influenza has also been treated with high-dose vitamin C,25 and taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of respiratory illness can also be helpful.

Following other basic tenets of health, like eating right, getting sound sleep, exercising and addressing stress are also important, as is regularly washing your hands.

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