Consumer Health Digest #18-19

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 13, 2018


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.


Discredited, alarmist HPV vaccine study retracted. The open-access journal Scientific Reports has retracted a 2016 article that claimed to provide scientific support fior anecdotal reports alleging that the human papilloma virus vaccine Gardasil had side effects such headaches, fatigue, and poor concentration. The article also claimed that Gardasil administered to mice damages regions of the brain to induce adverse reactions. Soon after it was published, the Respectful Insolence blog blasted its design and the evidence presented. [Orac. Torturing more mice in the name of antivaccine pseudoscience. Respectful Insolence Blog, November 18, 2016] The retraction announcement stated:

The Publisher is retracting this Article because the experimental approach does not support the objectives of the study. The study was designed to elucidate the maximum implication of human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine (Gardasil) in the central nervous system. However, the co-administration of pertussis toxin with high-levels of HPV vaccine is not an appropriate approach to determine neurological damage from HPV vaccine alone. The Authors do not agree with the retraction.

Although critics welcome the retraction, some have chastised the journal for taking so long to do it. [Normile D. Journal retracts paper claiming neurological damage from HPV vaccine. Science, May 11, 2018] And, despite the retraction, the full text of the retracted article is still on the journal's Web site.

HPV vaccination can prevent most of 30,000 annual cases of cancer in the U.S. caused by some types of HPV. It can prevent cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus as well as oropharyngeal cancer. HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, oral sex, and most commonly through vaginal or anal sex. HPV infection can resolve on its own, but can also develop for many years before symptoms first appear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends HPV vaccination for girls and boy at ages 11 or 12 years, but it can begin as early as age 9. For dosage schedules, see HPV vaccines: Vaccinating your preteen or teen. CDC, updated Aug. 24, 2017.


Psychological links to anti-vaccination attitude investigated. There is no clear evidence that debunking anti-vaccination myths has a significant effect on anti-vaccination attitudes. To explore why this is so, Australian researchers surveyed people in 24 countries on six continents. Based on responses from 5,323 participants, the researchers found that anti-vaccination attitudes scores were associated with:

These relationships were not strong among respondents in Asian and South American countries, but in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, U.K., and the U.S.A., beliefs about conspiracies were found to account for 17% to 27% of the variation in anti-vaccination attitude. Gender and education level were not significantly related to anti-vaccination attitude, but conservative political ideology and younger age were each found to be weakly related. [Hornsey MJ and others. The psychological roots of anti-vaccination attitudes: A 24-nation investigation. Health Psychology 37:307-315, 2018]


Mainstreaming of "Traditional Medicine" diagnoses blasted. David Gorski, M.D., Ph.D. has severely criticized the proposed inclusion of nonsensical diagnoses in the next edition of the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Gorski's criticism is directed toward the proposed chapter on "Traditional Medicine conditions" that provides codes for "disorders and patterns that originated in ancient Chinese Medicine and are commonly used in China, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere around the world." WHO describes the chapter as "optional for those who would like to record epidemiological data about traditional medicine practice." But Gorski notes that diagnoses such as "bladder meridian pattern," "triple energy meridian pattern," and "liver qi stagnation pattern" are based on prescientific beliefs about the body and do not belong in a classification system that is supposed to reflect current medical science. [Gorski D. ICD-11: A triumph of the "integration" of quackery with real medicine. Science-Based Medicine, Mar. 19, 2018] To see the TM codes and definitions, repeatedly click the triangles under heading 26.


Barrett interviewed about quackery in podcast. Dr. Stephen Barrett was the guest of Paul Gibbons on his Think Bigger, Think Better audio podcast of April 23, 2018 addressing a wide variety of consumer health-related topics for more than 50 minutes. An audio recording is available.

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This page was posted on May 14, 2018