CBS & the flu vaccine, pt. 2: A little misinformation goes a long way

January 29th, 2011 → 4:28 pm @ // 5 Comments

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.


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5 Comments → “CBS & the flu vaccine, pt. 2: A little misinformation goes a long way”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by docrkp, David Schilling and Brendan Nyhan, Seth Mnookin. Seth Mnookin said: Misinformation and CBS News's poorly reported flu vaccine story, pt. 2: watch the scare spread http://ht.ly/3MBBn [...]

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  2. jre

    3 years ago

    I needed to look up Sharyl Attkisson’s track record to be reminded of just how deeply invested she is in the anti-vaccine narrative. Here, for example, she primes everyone’s favorite gastroenterologist (identified as “Executive Director of Thoughtful House”) with lead-ins such as “and thimerosal in larger doses is still being given to babies …”
    In a perverse sort of way, she is an asset to CBS precisely because she has staked a claim on the wacky advocacy side of this story. I mean, who’s gonna get the next interview with Wakefield? I’ll go out on a limb and guess that it won’t be Anderson Cooper.

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  3. bensmyson

    3 years ago

    Dude are you intentionally distorting the truth?

    This is exactly what I said:

    As Dr. Brooks-Kayal herself wrote when asked about this issue, “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.”

    33% of ALL febrile seizures are Complex Febrile Seizures. They are, in fact, non-typical. (Thirty-five percent of first and 33% of recurrent febrile seizures had one or more complex features) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8635422

    These (79 children) subjects were identified by careful criteria and represented 27% of a total of 293 children who presented with a first febrile seizure. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/117/2/528 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content-nw/full/117/2/528/T2

    Complex Febrile seizures such as Prolonged Febrile Seizures, according to to Dr. Brooks-Kayal’s conclusion, “Early life seizures may produce a variety of cellular and molecular changes in hippocampus that may contribute to the enhanced risk of IDDs and ASDs in patients with early life seizures and epilepsy.”

    Vaccines can cause Prolonged Febrile Seizures, the tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap), according to the CDC and manufacturers of the vaccine, can cause such an injury. http://www.jfponline.com/Pages.asp?AID=5013 http://www.drugs.com/pro/kinrix.html

    I am not doubting Dr. Brooks-Kayal has no knowledge of any link between febrile seizures, brief or otherwise, because she did not investigate that in her study. However the CDC has, ” In April 2010, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration reported preliminary data indicating an elevated risk for febrile reactions, including febrile seizures, among young children in Australia who received the 2010 trivalent vaccine Fluvax Jr., the southern hemisphere inactivated trivalent vaccine for children manufactured by CSL Biotherapies. The risk for febrile seizures was estimated to be as high as five to nine cases per 1,000 vaccinated children aged younger than 5 years, and most seizures occurred among children aged younger than 3 years.” http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/adversetiv.htm

    Is it your opinion that vaccines have never caused brain injuries, seizures or any serious nervous system problems? Or you just talking about flu vaccines? http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm

    Your links said:

    The vast majority of febrile seizures are short and harmless. There is no evidence that short febrile seizures cause brain damage. Certain children who have febrile seizures face an increased risk of developing epilepsy. These children include those who have cerebral palsy, delayed development, or other neurological abnormalities, or who have febrile seizures that are lengthy or affect only one part of the body.NIH

    (Simple) Febrile seizures do not cause brain damage, nervous system problems, paralysis, mental retardation, or death. Pediatrics

    These are some things I didn’t say:

    Five percent of children with febrile seizures present with status epilepticus. In the United States, the overall mortality is 10-15%. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/804189-overview

    Febrile status epilepticus (>30 minutes’ duration) occurs in 5% children and is more likely to have focal features. Prolonged febrile seizures increase the incidence of epilepsy to 21%. The vast majority of children who present with febrile seizures do not develop epilepsy. Febrile seizures are classified as simple or complex; complex febrile seizures are associated with an increased risk of epilepsy. Complex febrile seizures are defined by at least one of the following features: duration longer than 15 minutes, multiple seizures within 24 hours, and focal features. These features are absent in simple febrile seizures, which make up 75% of attacks. AGAIN Prolonged febrile seizures increase the incidence of epilepsy to 21%. http://www.bmj.com/content/334/7588/307.full

    Long-term mortality is not increased in children with febrile seizures, but there seems to be a small excess mortality during the 2 years after complex febrile seizures. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673608611988/abstract

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    • jre

      3 years ago

      bensmyson writes:

      Dude are you intentionally distorting the truth?
      This is exactly what I said: …

      These are the comments to which Mnookin referred:

      One third of febrile seizures are “complex,” since they are either multiple, focal, or prolonged. 33% those “common childhood seizures” you point to will be dangerous.

      And if your child has a febrile seizure, he will roughly 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.

      For those keeping score, here is how it breaks out:

      Did bensmyson claim that “1/3 of febrile seizures are complex and therefore “dangerous”? Yes. And did he offer any evidence supporting this claim? No.

      2 points: Mnookin

      Did bensmyson claim that children who have febrile seizures have a 1 in 10 chance of developing serious brain injuries? Yes. Studies cited in support? Zip.

      2 points: Mnookin
      I make it Mnookin 4, bensmyson 0.

      We haven’t scored bensmyson’s sad attempt to conflate epilepsy and ASD, but that would be piling on.

      Reply
  4. [...] For years, CBS News’s Sharyl Attkisson has been one of the least responsible mainstream journalists covering vaccines and autism. Again and again, she’s parroted anti-vaccine rhetoric long past the point that it’s been decisively disproved. To take but one recent example: In January, she posted (and then removed) a story claiming that a study in the Archives of Neurology said almost precisely the opposite of what it actually reported. [...]

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