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Symptoms, Causes and Possible Treatment Options

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While sanitation has been improving over the years as more and more information is found on foodborne diseases, millions of people still contract illnesses from wrongly prepared food products, be it from contaminated preparations or incorrect storage. One of the possible conditions is listeria infection, which is caused by the listeria monocytogenes bacterium.

While listeria infections are rare and do not affect a considerable number of the population, it is especially dangerous for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals, such as the elderly. This article will primarily focus on what listeria is, its symptoms, causes and possible treatment options.

What Is Listeria Infection?

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are abundant in numerous organic materials, such as soil, spoiling vegetation and animal manure. Once they come into contact with food and are consumed, these bacteria may cause considerable discomfort and even dangerous complications.1

Through evolution, listeria monocytogenes managed to develop a process that allows it to penetrate cell membranes and spread from cell to cell. However, studies show that the process by which the bacteria are spread is extremely crucial. Once this method of proliferation develops inside the human body, the bacteria may attack the central nervous and digestive systems.2

While the primary infection caused by the bacteria is called listeriosis, other independent conditions can stem from this, which include meningitis, intrauterine infection and encephalitis.3 It is often contracted from wrongly processed meats and animal products, as well as contaminated food crops. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 1,600 Americans get listeriosis every year, with about 260 patients eventually succumbing to the condition.4

But even if large numbers of people are exposed to the bacteria, only a few may start showing symptoms. These symptoms, however, fall under the “bimodal distribution of severity.” This means that these infections either manifest as mild or severe — only in the extremes.5

Notable Listeria Infection Outbreaks

Outbreaks often occur when two or more people become infected by a foodborne disease from a specific food product. A serious listeria outbreak in the U.S. happened in 2011, stemming from contaminated cantaloupes from Jensen Farms.

While it is regarded as one of the worst outbreaks, infecting 147 people and causing 33 confirmed deaths,6 the worst outbreak in the world was in Africa in 2018, killing 189 people and sickening 982 as of March 2018. About 43 percent of the deaths were newborns infected during gestation, The New York Times said. This outbreak was traced to processed bologna.7

While the cause for the Jensen Farms outbreak is unclear, one of the purported origins was due to a dump truck used to transport cantaloupes to a cattle operation, which eventually contaminated the whole facility.8

The increase in fresh food cases of listeriosis, such as in the cantaloupe recall, shows that listeria infections are not limited to processed, refrigerated or unpasteurized foods. The hygiene in fruit and vegetable propagation may play a role in the massive number of listeria cases.

The most recent listeria outbreak that has affected Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom is actually ongoing. The reason for the outbreak was first traced to frozen corn, but it has since been found to be caused by other types of frozen vegetables. While the recalls have been set, the risk for listeria infections are still present until all the products are removed from the shelves.9

Is Raw Milk Undeservingly Demonized Because of Listeria Scares?

Raw milk is often one of the first food products that figure in the listeria warnings issued by the CDC. This is often accompanied by recommendations that pasteurized milk is the only dairy product safe for human consumption, as it supposedly removes all the risks of bacterial growth. Of course, these recommendations also leave out the fact that pasteurization kills off most of the beneficial enzymes and nutrients found in raw milk.

Aside from that, the warnings against raw milk are blown out of proportion in favor of pasteurized milk, and they also fail to say that the risk of getting a listeria infection in raw milk is almost equal to the risk in pasteurized milk, as these products may still be contaminated through improper handling.10 It all just boils down to the source and storage.

The problem is that most consumers are unaware that there are basically two types of raw milk. CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) raw milk is the type of milk specifically produced to be put through the pasteurization process.

Quality control is incredibly lenient in this regard, as the milk goes through extremely harsh processes, to ensure that all types of bacteria are killed off. The second type is raw milk from pasture-raised cows and is required to reach strict standards to ensure safety and quality.11

This bias is appropriately put on display in the 2015 listeria outbreak caused by contaminated batches of Blue Bell Creameries ice cream. Today, Blue Bell Creameries is back in business after the deadly outbreak, while small organic farms are forced to close down operations completely after causing alleged “outbreaks.”12

In fact, the Weston A. Price Foundation notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has attacked raw milk despite the absence of concrete proof that it has caused listeria outbreaks in the population in the past 40 years or so.13

3 Listeria Infection Symptoms to Look Out For

In non-pregnant individuals, a listeria infection may manifest in different ways, depending on the severity and the spread of the bacteria in the body. Because of the numerous conditions that may arise due to underlying listeriosis, the presence of the following problems may point to this infection:14

If you start to suffer the symptoms above, seek medical help as soon as possible. This will help contain the infection and limit its spread to other systems in the body. This is especially important if you start suffering from psychological and cognitive function problems.

Listeria Infection Symptoms in Infants

While it is important that you remain vigilant of these symptoms at all times, the importance doubles when you’re pregnant as it may endanger you and your child.15 There are two types of listeria infections in infants, and they differ depending on the onset of the condition: early-onset and late-onset.

Early-onset listeriosis is usually acquired from the mother, with the infant typically being diagnosed with sepsis within the 24 hours after birth. The cause of late-onset neonatal listeriosis, on the other hand, is unclear and may be because of external factors — it occurs rarely. Some of the symptoms of late-onset listeriosis may not be as straightforward as you’d want them to be, but they include:16

  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Fever

What Causes Listeria Infection?

Listeria monocytogenes is a pathogenic bacterium that commonly thrives in water, soil and some poultry and livestock products. Compared to other bacteria, listeria monocytogenes is much more resilient, surviving even in refrigerated or frozen conditions. The only surefire ways to remove this bacterium from food products is through cooking and pasteurization.17

If you’re not entirely sure what types of foods you should be avoiding or limiting your intake of to drastically lower your risk of a listeria infection, here’s a list:18

  • Ready-to-eat meats and hotdogs
  • Refrigerated meat spreads
  • Dairy products from untrustworthy sources
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Uncooked sprouts

Fresh vegetables and fruits may also cause listeria infections, especially if left unwashed. This is due to the possible contact between the fresh produce and animal manure, which is sometimes used in farming, and can contaminate groundwater sources like rivers and irrigation ditches used on the produce.

Listeria in Pregnancy

While listeria infection usually goes away on its own, this does not mean that it should be ignored in hopes that it will resolve on its own. This is especially important when you get listeriosis during pregnancy, as this opens you up to numerous dangerous side effects and complications. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to listeria infection because the hormone changes happening in their body may compromise their immune system.19

4 Possible Pregnancy Complications That May Arise Due to Listeria Infection

Pregnant women are 20 times more susceptible to this infection, which exposes them to a handful of dangerous complications in both their health and their unborn child’s, with the child’s being more severe.20 Some of the most common complications that pregnant women can suffer from include:

  • Stillbirths — One documented case of listeria infection causing a stillbirth was thoroughly discussed in the 1966 volume of the Journal of Clinical Pathology. In this specific case, the listeria infection was not apparent in the mother, aside for a slight fever. However, the stillborn child showed numerous evidence pointing to widespread listeria infection, which affected the lungs, spleen and liver.21
  • Miscarriages — The listeria bacteria can alter the placenta’s ability to protect the unborn child. This may weaken both the fetus and the mother’s reproductive tract, leading to miscarriages early in the pregnancy.22
  • Preterm labor — In a 1993 study in the Zeitschrift fur Geburtshilfe und Perinatologie, scientists found that seven strains of the bacteria had the ability to induce uterine contractions, increasing the risk of premature birth.23
  • Death of newborn — If the listeria infection occurs late into the pregnancy, there is a chance that the symptoms will start appearing in the child upon birth, usually starting with symptoms of meningitis. About 60 percent of babies with infected mothers are born premature. They typically start showing signs within 24 hours. Unfortunately, 20 to 60 percent of these neonatal cases die because of the infection.24

Listeria in the Elderly

Because of their compromised immune system function, caused by either old age or other external factors, the elderly are at a higher risk of suffering from listeriosis. In fact, more than half of the patients who suffer from listeriosis belong to the elderly population.25

In 2009, a rise in listeria infections amongst pensioners and the older generation was observed with the reason being that they were more likely to ignore the use-by dates on the packaging of their food products. In fact, a survey found that approximately 40 percent of the elderly population would knowingly eat dairy products up to three days past the use-by date.26 Their weaker immune system puts them at a higher risk of being more severely affected by the bacteria.

Listeria Treatment: How Can This Infection Be Treated?

Listeria infection treatment largely depends on the severity of the symptoms and the immune strength of the patient. In mild cases, treatment is not required, as the symptoms usually go away on their own. In fact, healthy children, teenagers and adults don’t require any type of treatment as their immune systems are efficient enough.

However, because of the risks that listeriosis poses on pregnant women, the elderly and immunosuppressed, these patients often require immediate treatment. While the conventional medical route when it comes to listeria infections is through antibiotics, there are also natural ways that you can help your body recover, such as:

Some of the most common antibiotics prescribed for this infection are:

  • Ampicillin is often prescribed alone or in conjunction with other antibiotics, including gentamicin. This antibiotic mainly works by rendering the bacteria unable to create an effective cell wall, eventually leading to their death.29
  • Gentamicin, which is usually administered through injections, is an antibiotic that targets various types of bacteria by inhibiting protein production. This eventually messes up the bacteria’s overall processes they need to survive.30

While antibiotics may be the conventional route for the treatment of listeria, it’s important that you are aware of the numerous risks of side effects that they pose. In mild cases, antibiotics may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. In severe cases, they may cause allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock, which may lead to death.31

If it is absolutely necessary for you to take antibiotics, you can help your body maintain balance by taking probiotics or sporebiotics, which will keep the good bacteria in your gut balanced, as antibiotics cannot differentiate between good and bad bacteria. If you’re not familiar with sporebiotic supplements, these are made up of bacillus spores and may help reestablish the gut microbiome and enhance your overall immune function.

Listeria Treatment for Pregnant Mothers

Because of pregnant women’s sensitive condition, listeriosis treatment during pregnancy is essential to ensure both the safety of the mother and unborn child. During the onset of the infection, listeriosis may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which may cause excessive loss of water from the body, leading to dehydration. This may cause weakness and other health repercussions.32

If a pregnant woman starts showing signs and symptoms of listeriosis, treatment and testing are often given simultaneously to deal with the presumptive infection as soon as possible. Listeria diagnosis usually consists of blood tests and a placental culture in the event of a delivery. If the tests come back negative, thorough evaluation should be done to determine whether the antibiotics prescribed should be continued for safety.33

Listeria Prevention

Like other infections that stem from food contamination, listeria prevention mainly depends on hygiene and the quality of the food that you are ingesting. While listeria infections may be rare, this does not mean that you can ignore caution and expose yourself to the risk of contracting an infection. To make it easier for you, here are a few tips you can follow to drastically decrease your infection risk:34

  • Avoid drinking dairy products from untrusted sources — While health agencies vilify raw dairy products because they supposedly increase your risk of bacterial infections, the same agencies also fail to note that pasteurized dairy has almost the same risks of contamination with different strains of bacteria as raw dairy. When buying dairy products, it’s important that you only get them from trustworthy sources to ensure you’re getting the highest quality.
  • Wash utensils and kitchen tools used to handle raw or uncooked ingredients — Avoid interchangeably using utensils between raw foods that are going to be cooked with foods that are going to be eaten fresh.
  • Make sure to separate uncooked meats from vegetables, fruits and cooked foods — Properly storing your food inside the refrigerator may significantly reduce the risk of listeria from getting into foods that do not require cooking.
  • Thoroughly cook meats and other ingredients, and avoid consuming half-cooked or poorly cooked food — Make sure that all your meals are properly and sufficiently cooked, preferably in clean and hygienic environments.
  • Eat ready-to-eat foods immediately, avoiding prolonged exposure to air — While you might be tempted to leave your food unattended and get back to it when time permits, this is a surefire way for listeria bacteria to get into your food.

However, because of the unpredictable way that this type of bacteria spreads from food or other materials, it’s important that you strengthen your immune system to combat this infection. Your body’s immune response plays an important role in regulating the severity of the infection and its spread in your various systems. Immunocompromised patients manifest worse symptoms because the bacteria easily enter their bloodstream, leading to sepsis.

If you want to nip listeria at the root, you can start with strengthening your immune response through various natural practices, including:

  • If you smoke, stopIn a 2017 study from the Oncotarget journal, cigarette smoking was found to negatively affect innate and adaptive immunity, exposing you to a greater risk of infections, cancers and other diseases. Ironically, while smoking may weaken your immune system, it may also increase autoimmunity risk.35
  • Eat a healthy diet — Numerous vitamins and minerals play a direct role in promoting immune function, including vitamins A, C, D and zinc. Ensuring that your diet has plenty of these nutrients may help shield you or at least significantly reduce your risk of contracting different diseases and infections.36
  • Exercise regularly — Physical activity may influence the immune system as regular exercise was found to provide a certain protective effect. However, it’s important that you know your limits as overexertion may lead to an opposite effect.37
  • Get adequate sleep — In a 2015 study from the Journal of Immunology Research, researchers noted that sleep influences the body’s ability to fight off infections and other illnesses. They found that lack of sleep significantly dampens the body’s immune function.38

4 Side Effects or Complications of Listeriosis

While the infection itself brings patients a handful of painful symptoms, listeriosis, if left undiagnosed and untreated, may also expose you to these complications:

  • Neonatal sepsis — In the event that the mother becomes infected prepartum, the unborn child is at high risk of suffering bacterial septicemia. This may cause respiratory distress, an enlarged liver and decreased muscle tone. The prompt diagnosis and treatment of this complication is crucial to decrease the risk of mortality.39
  • Meningitis — The Listeria monocytogenes bacterium is one of the leading causes of meningitis in the population, trailing behind Streptococcus pneumonia and Neisseria meningitides bacteria.40 Symptoms of meningitis include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, muscle pain and confusion. In the later parts of the infection, patients may suffer from seizures and fall into a coma.41
  • Brain abscesses — While extremely rare, the listeria monocytogenes bacteria can cause brain abscesses. When the infection becomes widespread, it may reach the brain, allowing pus to accumulate in certain parts of the brain.42
  • Listerial endocarditis — In 7.5 percent of the cases of listeria infection, the bacteria manage to make their way to the heart. This causes inflammation in the heart tissue. About half of the patients who suffer from this end up dying.43

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Listeria Infection

Q: How common is listeria in pregnancy?

A: About 17 percent of pregnant women fall victim to listeria infections annually, exposing them to numerous risks.44

Q: How is listeria treated?

A: Conventional treatment for listeria is through antibiotics, such as gentamicin and ampicillin. However, these medications also come with numerous risks and side effects, including nausea, vomiting and dangerous allergic reactions. It’s important to know that there are natural ways to combat this infection, including maintaining a good level of hydration and using garlic shoot juice.45

Q: How does listeria get into food?

A: Listeria may contaminate foods if they are incorrectly stored or if ready-to-eat foods are exposed to contaminated materials or utensils used to prepare uncooked food.

Q: How long does a listeria infection last?

A: The duration of a listeria infection depends on the severity and length of the incubation period. Symptoms of listeria may start to show up between two and 70 days after exposure. 

Q: Is listeria contagious?

A: Listeria is mainly contracted from contaminated food and water. It cannot be transmitted from person to person through proximity.

Q: How do you test for listeria?

A: A listeria infection may be diagnosed through various tests, including blood and spinal fluid. If a pregnant mother shows symptoms of listeriosis and there are no other subsequent conditions that may be causing them, testing and treatment may be given at the same time.

Q: How do you get listeria?

A: You can get listeria from a variety of sources, including contaminated ready-to-eat food products, refrigerated meats and dairy products. While the listeria bacterium is purely foodborne, transmission is possible between the mother and the unborn child.46

Q: How common is listeria?

A: Listeria is present in a lot of foods, specifically those stored in refrigerated environments, like deli meats and ready-to-eat sandwiches.

Q: What temperature kills listeria?

A: The listeria bacteria can be killed off in temperatures greater than 65 degrees Celsius or 149 degrees Fahrenheit.47

Q: Does cooking kill listeria?

A: Listeria is one of the hardest bacteria to kill because it cannot die in low or freezing temperatures. The good news is that listeria can be killed off by cooking, specifically in temperatures higher than 149 degrees Fahrenheit. But while cooking can kill it off, cooked food can be contaminated during storage.

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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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