It didn’t take long for comments to start showing up on my post criticizing Sharyl Attkisson’s misleading flu vaccine story on the CBS News site. (A very quick recap: Attkisson implied, incorrectly, that a study by Amy Brooks-Kayal indicated that febrile seizures linked to the flu vaccine put children at an increased risk of developmental disorders.)
Before I get into the substance of those comments, I want to share the contents of an email Brooks-Kayal sent me this morning after I asked her about the CBS News report:
The type of seizures that I refer to in my article are not the type of seizure typically brought on by vaccination (which as you note are usually brief febrile seizures), and to my knowledge there has been no valid scientific link between brief febrile seizures after the flu vaccine and permanent neurological injury. Vaccination to prevent the flu is a very important preventative health measure, particularly for children with chronic illnesses such as epilepsy. Our group recently published an article showing a high rate of serious complications from the H1N1 flu in pediatric patients with neurological problems, particularly recurrent seizures (epilepsy), emphasizing why it is so important for children to receive this vaccination. As a pediatric neurologist I recommend that my patients receive this vaccine and as a mother I have my own children vaccinated every year.
That’s pretty clear — however, several readers apparently took the opposite message from the CBS story. One reader, Bensmyson, writes (without attribution) that 1/3 of febrile seizures are complex and therefore “dangerous” and that children who have febrile seizures have a 1 in 10 chance of “developing serious brain injuries as a result, as well as a chance of developing epilepsy, which is associated with ASD [autism spectrum disorders].” Those are frightening statistics — but they’re not accurate.
Another commenter, rlneub, asks “So, is CBS making this up or are the FDA/CDC really looking into this?” The irony here is that it is only because the FDA is looking into this — and because it went public with the information as soon as it was available — that we are discussing this in the first place.
In posting dangerously misleading information, Attkisson and CBS News have done a disservice to the public. By not coming forward and openly admitting their mistake, they’re compounding the initial error.
For people who want information on febrile seizures, here’s a link to the National Institute of Health’s information page and here’s one for an info page put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics.