A 2-year-old’s kidney transplant was put on hold — after his donor father’s probation violation

A father in Georgia who had prepared to donate a kidney to his 2-year-old son said last week that he is being forced to wait after a recent stint in county jail.

Anthony Dickerson’s son, A.J., was born without kidneys, and Dickerson, who is a perfect match, was ready to donate one of his, he told NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta. He was arrested days before the planned transplant but released from Gwinnett County Jail this month to undergo surgery. Now, he said, the transplant center at Emory University Hospital has put it on hold — in a case that one expert called befuddling.

“That’s all I ever wanted was a son,” the 26-year-old father told the news station. “And I finally got him, and he’s in this situation.”

Dickerson, who was on probation over numerous charges, including theft and forgery, was arrested Sept. 28 on charges of possession of a firearm and fleeing or attempting to elude police, said Shannon Volkodav, a spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.

The family told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that medical personnel sent a letter to jail authorities, requesting that Dickerson be escorted to Emory for a preoperative appointment so he could continue with the scheduled surgery. The next day, A.J.’s mother provided authorities with the necessary documentation showing that Dickerson was scheduled to donate a kidney on Oct. 3, Volkodav said.

“Our staff worked diligently with court personnel and the District Attorney’s Office to make arrangements for Mr. Dickerson’s early release so that he could follow through on his scheduled kidney donation for his young son, AJ,” Volkodav said in a statement Monday to The Washington Post. As a result, she said, Dickerson was released Oct. 2 on a $1,000 bond.

“We wish this family well in their pursuit of medical assistance for their son and hope that little AJ is soon enjoying good health,” she said in the statement.

But after authorities secured his release, the family said, the hospital backpedaled.

In a second letter, hospital officials said the transplant team at Emory would now require Dickerson to provide evidence that he had complied with his parole officer over the next three months.

“We will reevaluate Mr. Dickerson in January 2018 after receipt of his completed documentation,” it read, according to the newspaper.

But the family argues that the transplant should not be about Dickerson.

“It’s about my son,” the child’s mother, Carmella Burgess, told WXIA. “He’s been through a lot. It’s like we’ve been waiting on this. And Dad making a mistake shouldn’t affect what he wants to do with our son.”

The family told the news station that they are at a loss — A.J., who had a stroke a couple of months ago, needs the transplant, and putting him on a waiting list for a kidney would take too long.

Asked about the decision to postpone the transplant, Emory spokesman Vincent Dollard said in a statement to The Post:

Emory Healthcare is committed to the highest quality of care for its patients. Guidelines for organ transplantation are designed to maximize the chance of success for organ recipients and minimize risk for living donors. Transplant decisions regarding donors are made based on many medical, social, and psychological factors. Because of privacy regulations and respect for patient confidentiality, we cannot share specific information about our patients.

Though it’s unclear why exactly Emory appeared to go back on its decision, experts say transplant centers look at many factors when evaluating a living donor, including health risks and whether the donor will be reliable and accessible.

Dickerson’s medical history is not publicly known.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that manages the transplant system in the United States, living donors “should be in good overall physical and mental health.”

Some medical conditions could prevent you from being a living donor. Medical conditions that may prevent a living kidney donation may include uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, acute infections, or a psychiatric condition requiring treatment. Since some donor health conditions could harm a transplant recipient, it is important that you share all information about your physical and mental health. You must be fully informed of the known risks involved with donating and complete a full medical and psychosocial evaluation.

Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics and head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, said policies are determined by authorities and transplant centers, not by law.

“Usually when centers balk at a donor, it’s for some reason having to do with a medical problem that hasn’t been disclosed that poses additional risk . . . or a worry that the donor can’t follow up with medical care if something goes wrong,” Caplan said Monday in a phone interview. “But I don’t find either of those particularly great reasons not to use him as a donor.”


One in nine American men has oral HPV, study finds


(CNN) About one in nine American men is infected with the oral form of human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Nationwide, rates for oral HPV infections are 11.5% of men and 3.2% of women: 11 million men, compared with 3.2 million women, the researchers estimated.

An infection with this common virus, which is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, can cause cancer in several areas of the body, including the throat, anus, penis and vagina. Nearly all men and women will become infected with at least one type of HPV, a group of 150 related viruses, at some point in their lives, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Previous studies have shown that men have higher rates of overall HPV infections than women. The research published Monday reveals the higher rates of oral HPV infections occurring among men, said Ashish A. Deshmukh, senior author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions.

“One suspects that the HPV persists longer (means doesn’t clear easily) among men and that might be causing increased prevalence,” Deshmukh noted in an email.
“It is also possible that men acquire oral HPV more readily than women,” he said. Yet another possibility could be that, after a first infection, women develop greater resistance to subsequent infections. “Further research is needed to understand the reason behind this,” Deshmukh added.

A warning to men

Annually, an average of 38,793 cases of HPV-related cancer — 59% of them in women and 41% in men — were diagnosed in the United States between 2008 and 2012.
Yet, in each year within that time span, a type of head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma was far more likely to strike men: 12,638 cases diagnosed in men each year, compared with just 3,100 cases in women.
It is the most common of all the HPV-related cancers, and its incidence among men (7.8 per 100,000) now surpasses incidence rates of cervical cancer among women (7.4 per 100,000). Cervical cancer is known to be caused by HPV.
An HPV vaccine is available for both men and women and can protect against infection, yet many men are over the eligibility age of 26, and younger men have low vaccination rates. The CDC recommends the vaccination for adolescents.
Deshmukh and a team of researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look at oral HPV infection rates in addition to how many men and women have both oral and genital HPV.
This CDC survey monitors the health and nutritional status of the nation’s population. Participants between the ages of 18 and 69 were given a physical examination, which included laboratory tests for 37 HPV types, followed by an interview.
All told, about 11.5% of study participants had an oral HPV infection.
Overall, the prevalence of all high-risk and low-risk HPV types was consistently higher in men. High-risk HPV infections affected 7.3% of men overall and 1.4% of women overall, while the highest number of high-risk cases were found in the 50- to 54-year-old group for both men and women, the researchers found.
HPV 16, the most common type of high-risk HPV and known to contribute to head and neck cancers, was six times higher among men (1.8%) than women (0.3%). It was most prevalent in men 50 to 69 years old, the team said.
“The rates of oropharyngeal cancer among men have risen more than 300 percent in the past 40 years making oropharyngeal cancer most common HPV-related cancer in the United States,” Deshmukh wrote in an email.
“In contrast, the rates of oropharyngeal cancer among women have declined.”

High-risk groups

Men who have had multiple sex partners, men who reported having sex with men, and men with genital HPV infections were found to have the highest rates of oral HPV, the study indicated.
HPV infections overall and high-risk HPV oral infections in particular were “significantly associated” with cigarette and marijuana use, the researchers found.
“Our study is also first to show that oral HPV infection prevalence was higher among Black men compared to White men (3% greater risk), those men who smoked more than 20 cigarettes daily compared to never smokers (10% greater risk), current marijuana users (6% greater risk), and men who have had more than 16 lifetime sexual partners (almost 20% greater risk),” Deshmukh wrote.
Eva McGhee, an assistant professor at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, said the work of Deshmukh and his co-authors may raise awareness of the dangers of HPV.
McGhee, who was not involved in the new study, also published recent research on increasing HPV vaccination rates in an effort to eliminate the virus.
“A lot of people are not really familiar with how devastating oral cancer is in general,” she said, and most are “not knowledgeable about how HPV infection can actually cause these awful cancers.”
Meanwhile, she noted that “85% of the population will encounter” human papillomavirus in their lifetime. “Most people can clear the virus,” she said, but those with compromised immune systems may find it difficult to naturally rid the virus from their bodies and therefore may develop a cancer associated with HPV.
“For cervical cancer, it takes at least 10 to 20 years for a cervical cancer to develop once infected” with HPV, McGhee said, noting that cancer develops slowly. Based on what she’s been reading, “I’m actually thinking it’s the same duration for oral cancer as well.”
The authors “made it very clear that oral cancer is more prevalent among men,” McGhee said.
“We cannot take this HPV infection lightly, because it does not discriminate. You can develop all of these types of cancers that’s associated with HPV,” McGhee said. “What’s important is, we need to look at other types of preventative strategies or treatments for the older people.”
Deshmukh also said better methods of screening are needed to prevent cancer among men who already have HPV or who are too old for the vaccine.
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Even if all those eligible to receive the vaccine got it in the next year or so, “it will need at least 20-30 years to reverse the rising rates of oropharyngeal cancer among US men because majority of men at risk for this cancer are already older than vaccine eligibility age.”
“We have methods to screen for cervical cancer; however, we still don’t have ways to detect oropharyngeal precancer,” Deshmukh said.

What Fasting Can Do For People With Type 2 Diabetes, Cancer & Alzheimer’s Disease
By Arjun Walia

Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.” – Hippocrates

Fasting has not received as much attention as it should when it comes to the world of health and medicine. That’s because you can’t really make any money off of it. The ‘pharmaceutical science’ studies used in medical schools to teach doctors about human health simply don’t focus enough on fasting for doctors to be knowledgeable in the subject. Doctors also learn very little about nutrition and are trained to prescribe drugs as a result.

Dr. Jason Fung is trying to change all that. A Toronto based nephrologist, he completed medical school and internal medicine at the University of Toronto before finishing his nephrology fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles at the Cedars-Sinai hospital. He joined Scarborough General Hospital in 2001 where he continues to practice and change peoples lives.

He is one of a growing number of scientists and doctors to create awareness about the tremendous health benefits that can be achieved from fasting. It’s one of the oldest dietary interventions in the world and has been practiced for thousands of years. If properly practiced fasting was bad or harmful in any way, as some doctors suggest, it would have been known by now, and studies would not be emerging showing the health benefits that can be achieved from fasting regularly.

The Research

For example, a recent study published in the journal cell shows how a fasting diet can trigger the pancreas to regenerate itself, which works to control blood sugar levels and reverse symptoms of diabetes.

There is absolutely no evidence, for the average person, that fasting can be dangerous. If you’re on prescription medication, or experience other medical problems, then there are obviously exceptions. But it’s quite clear that the human body was designed to go long periods of time without food, and that it’s completely natural.

Dr. Fung, Fasting & Diabetes

Dr. Fung recently published a book, co-authored with Jimmy Moore, titled “The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate Day, and Extended Fasting” It’s a great book that puts to rest the fears and myths associated with extended water fasting. He also recently published “The Obesity Code: Unlocking The Secrets of Weight Loss”

Fung, like 90 percent of doctors out there was conventionally oriented. He is a kidney specialist, and many of his patients had/have type 2 diabetes as a result of that. It eventually became clear to him that something was very wrong with the conventional treatment of type 2 diabetes.

With Type 2 diabetes, patients who take insulin and follow the recommended dietary guidelines would still have several complications, mainly kidney disease. Because of this, they can go blind, require dialysis or even require amputations.

In the interview below with Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Fung addresses multiple myths and issues that are commonly brought up about fasting. And dives into explaining how fasting does not burn muscle, how it can reverse diabetes, addresses the ‘Starvation Mode’ myth, explains the role of insulin, discusses different variations of fasting and much more.

Be sure to visit his website, where you can find information on him, his practice, results, lectures and article that he continually publishes every month.

“Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat; on the other three-quarters lives their doctor.” – Egyptian pyramid inscription

Fasting, The Brain & Neurodegenerative Diseases, Like Alzheimer’s

Below is a TEDx talk given by Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging. He is also a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University, and one of the foremost researchers of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Mattson also addresses this issue toward the end of his video:

Why is it that the normal diet is three meals a day plus snacks? It isn’t that it’s the healthiest eating pattern, now that’s my opinion but I think there is a lot of evidence to support that. There are a lot of pressures to have that eating pattern, there’s a lot of money involved. The food industry — are they going to make money from skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry loses money. What about the pharmaceutical industries? What if people do some intermittent fasting, exercise periodically and are very healthy, is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?

Lecture Summary and the Science to Go With It

Mark and his team have published several papers that discuss how fasting twice a week could significantly lower the risk of developing both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dietary changes have long been known to have an effect on the brain. Children who suffer from epileptic seizures have fewer of them when placed on caloric restriction or fasts. It is believed that fasting helps kick-start protective measures that help counteract the overexcited signals that epileptic brains often exhibit. (Some children with epilepsy have also benefited from a specific high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.) Normal brains, when overfed, can experience another kind of uncontrolled excitation, impairing the brain’s function, Mattson and another researcher reported in January in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.” (source)

Basically, when you take a look at caloric restriction studies, many of them show a prolonged lifespan as well as an increased ability to fight chronic disease. According to a review of fasting literature conducted in 2003“Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear.” The work presented below, however, is now showing some of these mechanisms that were previously unclear.

Fasting does good things for the brain, and this is evident by all of the beneficial neurochemical changes that happen in the brain when we fast. It improves cognitive function and stress resistance, increases neurotrophic factors, and reduces inflammation.

Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and your brain responds to that challenge by adapting stress response pathways that help your brain cope with stress and disease risk. The same changes that occur in the brain during fasting mimic the changes that occur with regular exercise — both increase the production of protein in the brain (neurotrophic factors), which in turn promotes the growth of neurons, the connection between neurons, and the strength of synapses.

As he explains in the video, 

Challenges to your brain, whether it’s intermittent fasting [or] vigorous exercise . . . is cognitive challenges. When this happens neuro-circuits are activated, levels of neurotrophic factors increase, that promotes the growth of neurons [and] the formation and strengthening of synapses.”

Fasting can also stimulate the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus. He also mentions how fasting stimulates the production of ketones, an energy source for neurons, and that it may also increase the number of mitochondria in neurons. Fasting also increases the number of mitochondria in nerve cells, since neurons adapt to the stress of fasting by producing more mitochondria.

By increasing the number of mitochondria in the neurons, the ability for nerons to form and maintain the connections between each other also increases, thereby improving learning and memory ability.

Intermittent fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA.”

He also goes into the evolutionary aspect of this theory, explaining how our ancestors adapted and were built for going long periods of time without food.

Fasting & Cancer

A study published in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California showed that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and, moreover, induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal, triggering stem cell based regeneration of an organ or system (source).

Human clinical trials were conducted using patients who were receiving chemotherapy. For long periods of time, patients did not eat, which significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles ” ‘flipped a regenerative switch,’ changing the signalling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems.”

This means that fasting kills off old and damaged immune cells, and when the body rebounds, it uses stem cells to create brand new, completely healthy cells.

We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the heatopoietic system. . . . When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.  What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. ” – Valter Longo, corresponding author (source)

A scientific review of multiple scientific studies regarding fasting was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. It examined a multitude of both human and animal studies and determined that fasting is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed significant potential in treating diabetes. (source)

Before You Fast

Before you fast, make sure you do your research. Personally, I’ve been fasting for years, so it is something that comes easy for me.

One recommended way of doing it, which was tested by the BBC’s Michael Mosley in order to reverse his diabetes, high cholesterol, and other problems associated with his obesity, is what is known as the “5:2 Diet.” On the 5:2 plan, you cut your food down to one-fourth of your normal daily calories on fasting days (about 600 calories for men and about 500 for women), while consuming plenty of water and tea. On the other five days of the week, you can eat normally.

Another way to do it, as mentioned above, is to restrict your food intake between the hours of 11am and 7pm daily, while not eating during the hours outside of that time.

Ultimately, a proper diet remains critical to good health, and how you think about what you are putting in your body is an important piece of that puzzle, which I believe will eventually be established in the unbiased and uninfluenced medical literature of the future. […]

This article originally appeared on Collective Evolution.

Nearly 4 in 10 U.S. adults are now obese, CDC says

Americans’ obesity rates have reached a new high-water mark. Again.

In 2015 and 2016, just short of 4 in 10 American adults had a body mass index that put them in obese territory.

In addition, just under 2 in 10 American children — those between 2 and 19 years of age — are now considered obese as well.

The new measure of the nation’s weight problem, released early Friday by statisticians from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronicles dramatic increases from the nation’s obesity levels since the turn of the 21st century.

Adult obesity rates have climbed steadily from a rate of 30.5% in 1999-2000 to 39.8% in 2015-2016, the most recent period for which data were available. That represents a 30% increase. Childrens’ rates of obesity have risen roughly 34% in the same period, from 13.9% in 1999-2000 to 18% in 2015-2016.

Seen against a more distant backdrop, the new figures show an even starker pattern of national weight-gain over a generation.

In the period between 1976 and 1980, the same national survey found that roughly 15% of adults and just 5.5% of children qualified as obese. In the time that’s elapsed since “Saturday Night Fever” was playing in movie theaters and Ronald Reagan won the presidency, rates of obesity in the United States have nearly tripled.

The new report, from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, measures obesity according to body mass index. This is a rough measure of fatness that takes a person’s weight (measured in kilograms) and divides it by their height (measured in meters) squared. For adults, those with a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered to have a “normal” weight. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and anything above 30 is deemed obese. (You can calculate yours here.)

Obesity rates for children and teens are based on CDC growth charts that use a baseline period between 1963 and 1994. Those with a BMI above the 85th percentile are considered overweight, and those above the 95th percentile are considered obese.

The report underscores a continuing pattern of racial and ethnic disparities when it comes to weight. Obesity rates among African Americans and Latinos have been consistently higher than those seen in whites, and the new survey shows no change in that pattern.


In adult Latinos and non-Hispanic blacks, obesity rates for 2015-2016 were 47% and 46.8%, respectively. Some 37.9% of non-Hispanic white American adults were obese in the latest tally.

Among non-Hispanic Asian adults, obesity rates were at 12.9%.

The racial and ethnic disparities were heavily driven by women: while white men and women were equally likely to be obese, rates of obesity in black women (54.8%) and Latinas (50.6%) were strikingly higher than among their male counterparts (36.9% and 43.1%, respectively).

Patrick T. Bradshaw, who studies population health at UC Berkeley, says the new statistics underscore that turning the tide on obesity will require more aggressive and targeted efforts.


The rising obesity levels “suggest that we haven’t been successful in efforts to reduce or prevent obesity in the population,” Bradshaw said. He echoed a growing consensus among public health experts that if progress is to be made in driving down obesity rates in the population at large, campaigns may need to focus on the specific challenges faced by Latinos and African Americans — especially women — in weight management.

The report does suggest a very modest measure of progress in the fight to reduce obesity rates. Compared to obesity prevalence data from 2013 and 2014, the newly reported rates do not represent a statistically significant change.

BMI is widely criticized as an imperfect way to gauge an individual’s health prospects. Aerobic fitness levels and waist-to-hip ratio are sometimes viewed as better measures.

But the BMI’s near-ubiquitous use in research on weight and disease risk has yielded unmistakable evidence of obesity’s dangers. In large populations, research has shown, higher rates of obesity shorten lives and drive up the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.

Puerto Ricans Are So Desperate They’re Trying to Drink Toxic Water at Hazardous Waste Sites


As Donald Trump waffles between cruelly threatening to pull aid from Puerto Rico and pathetically whining about criticism of his terrible relief efforts there, the island continues to deal with ongoing devastation. According to a FEMA report, nearly 40 percent of Puerto Ricans have no access to clean drinking water. The situation is so dire that some residents are attempting to get water from polluted, contaminated and toxic sources.

“There are reports of residents obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste ‘Superfund’ sites in Puerto Rico,” the Environmental Protection Agency notes in a press release cited by Reuters. CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud tweeted an image of the report.

View image on Twitter

The EPA cites reports of Puerto Ricans “obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste “Superfund” sites”


On the ground, groups of volunteer veterans have taken to social media to get out the message about how poorly this administration is handling aid efforts. In a widely shared video posted Monday, a group of four veterans, including a man identified as former Staff Sergeant and Cavalry Scout Jason Maddy, describe the lack of supplies coming in.

“We have an urgent message to get out about what’s really going on here in Western Puerto Rico,” Maddy says into the camera. “Right now, we’re only giving out, to people in the mountains, one small meal and six bottles of water per family. That is all they’re getting.”

“And the meals are really just kind of a snack pack,” another veteran, Chris Davis, says. “We can’t figure out why supplies aren’t coming in from San Juan. The local government here is doing all that they can.”

“In this area, we’re really the only ones here — we’re 12 volunteer veterans,” Maddy adds. “And people are hurting really bad right now.”

Brock Long, the head of FEMA appointed by Trump in April, has helped elevate the president’s attacks against officials who have not been praiseful of the administration’s response. Pleas for help from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz have largely been met with insults from Trump, even as the grossly undercounted death toll rises and the situation remains bleak.

“We filtered out the mayor a long time ago,” Long said during a Sunday television appearance. “We don’t have time for the political noise.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

You should get the flu shot—even if it won’t keep you from getting sick

This might sound like sacrilege, but it’s not hard to understand why over half of all people in the U.S. avoid getting the flu shot every year.

It’s a real pain—let’s just start there. Lots of people hate needles or are outright afraid of them, and that’s reasonable enough. Very few people want a stranger to poke them in the arm with something sharp. Sometimes you even get fatigue, or aches in your muscles. Then, to add insult to injury, you sometimes end up coming down with the flu anyway. What was even the point? And they want you to do this every year? Voluntarily?

Nope, no way. Most years you don’t get the shot, and you never get sick. And the flu isn’t even that bad! So why bother?

These kinds of reactions are common, because misunderstandings about influenza and the flu shot are common. The trouble is that the standard answers aren’t all that compelling, even if they’re true. We all hear the same evidence in favor of vaccinating every single year:

You can’t get the flu from the flu shot.

The flu can kill people, even healthy adults.

It takes a few weeks for the vaccine to kick in, so if you get sick right after the shot it was just a coincidence.

If you still get the flu, the vaccine helps you fend off life-threatening complications.

These are all absolutely true, and they’re all solid reasons to get vaccinated. But for many, they’re just not that convincing. Measles? Mumps? Polio? Those all sound like diseases to avoid at all costs, and you don’t need even to get the vaccine every year to do it. But the flu? Most people’s anecdotal evidence will tell them that they’re not likely to get a really serious case. When polled, 48 percent of those not planning on getting the shot said it was because they just didn’t need it. And they’re right. Healthy people can die from influenza…but mostly they don’t. And it’s not unreasonable to think that an imperfect vaccine isn’t worth the trouble. What’s the point of a vaccine that doesn’t give you total immunity?

So yeah, you shouldn’t get the flu shot because it will keep you from getting the flu. You should get it because it will keep other people from getting the flu.

We talk a lot about herd immunity when it comes to measles or rubella, but it doesn’t get as much airtime during flu season. The reality is that, on the whole, healthcare professionals aren’t all that worried about 25-year-olds dying from pneumonia contracted as a side effect of the flu. Yes, that unlucky young person would be better off if they’d gotten vaccinated, but that’s not going to be a concern for most of us.

Flu season is mostly a hazard for just a few categories of people: the elderly, the immunocompromised, the pregnant, and the very young. In other words, people for whom the consequences are huge.

Babies under six months and severely immunocompromised people—think those on chemotherapy or with chronic immune diseases—simply can’t get the shot. Their immune systems don’t get a gentle poke from a vaccine, they just get sick. Worse, they’re likely to get those potentially fatal side effects that healthy adults don’t have to worry about. It’s important to note, though, that this doesn’t apply to all immunosuppressed people, since plenty of them have a functioning-enough system that the vaccine will actually help them avoid getting a deadly case of the flu.

Older people tend to have somewhat compromised immune systems already, which makes them more susceptible to the flu virus. It also makes the shot less effective, since the whole principle of immunization depends on immune cells responding to the deactivated virus. One study in England and Wales found that vaccinating young people was a more effective strategy to prevent flu in the elderly than vaccinating the elderly themselves.

Pregnant people can (and should) get the flu shot, but those who don’t are doubly liable. Influenza often causes a fever, which can permanently damage a growing fetus, and the parent is prone to contracting a more serious case of the flu should they get infected.

These are the people for whom you’re getting the flu vaccine. Elderly men and women in nursing homes die from influenza regularly, and it’s not because they’re gallivanting around town getting infected—it’s because someone brought the virus to them. Maybe it was the man who brought their lunch, or their neighbor’s visiting granddaughter. Either way, it was probably someone who thought they weren’t likely to be affected by the flu—and they were right. It was someone else’s problem.

The beauty of herd immunity is that once you get above a certain threshold, it matters a lot less that the very old and very young don’t have protection. The virus just can’t spread well. To reach that point for the flu, we’d need to get around 80-90 percent of people vaccinated, depending on how effective that year’s shot was. This is how many people actually got vaccinated last season:

flu vaccine coverage

Vaccine coverage for adults in the U.S. is way below what we’d need for herd immunity to work.

Infographic by Sara Chodosh

Not a single state got anywhere close to that goal. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have been hospitalized every year from the flu, and thousands more have died. Statistically, you’re not likely to know anyone who landed in the emergency room—much less someone who passed away. But you might have passed one on the street, or touched a door handle before one, or sneezed in the same bus. That’s all it takes.

So don’t think of the flu shot as being about you. It’s about everyone. And we can do better.

Jailed mom ‘devastated’ to learn son was vaccinated


DETROIT — A 9-year-old boy at the center of vaccine dispute between his divorced parents received four immunizations this week, according to court testimony Wednesday.

The boy’s mother, Rebecca Bredow, 40, of Ferndale, opposed the shots and served five days in jail for refusing a judge’s order to get them. The boy’s father, James Horne, wanted his son vaccinated and had them administered on Monday, when he had custody of the child.

Through his attorney, Benton Richardson, Horne declined comment after the court hearing.

Bredow fought back tears as she discussed her jail stint and the rulings today.

“It was the worst five days of my life, except for the fact that I just found out that he was vaccinated and I’m not going to get him back today,” Bredow said. “It’s been a rough few days to say the least.”

Bredow and Horne separated before the boy was born in 2008, and since then, Bredow has had physical custody. Horne has taken his son on alternate weekends.

More: Another way for anti-vaxxers to skip shots for schoolkids: A doctor’s note

More: Study: Teens today safer, healthier in many ways

On Wednesday, Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald also approved a recommendation from a court referee to have the parents split physical custody 50-50. McDonald gave Bredow’s attorney, Steven Vitale, 21 days to object to the change, which Vitale said he will do.

“She’s devastated,” Vitale said.

Late week, McDonald took the unusual step of finding Bredow in contempt of court for refusing an earlier order to vaccinate her son. McDonald had made her intentions clear at a hearing the week before.

“You have seven days to get your child vaccinated,” McDonald told Bredow Sept. 27. “If not, you will appear here Wednesday and if you have not, I’ll send you to jail. Let me say it one more time, you have seven days. It’s ridiculous. Don’t make me do that.”

Bredow said she couldn’t bring herself to have the child immunized. McDonald said Bredow had consented to the shots in court pleadings in November 2016. Her refusal to do so amounted to contempt of court, McDonald ruled.

Vitale said that those pleadings, filed by a previous attorney, were made in error and Bredow never intended to consent to vaccinations. Bredow, citing religious objections to vaccinations, has avoided giving them to the boy since he was born.

Vitale said that Horne never questioned Bredow’s decisions to not vaccinate the boy until recently.

The case is the second one this week in McDonald’s court where divorced parents disagree on whether or not to vaccinate their child.

In a separate case, Lori Matheson and her ex-husband, Michael Schmitt, are arguing in front of McDonald on whether or not to vaccinate their 2-year-old daughter. Matheson testified on Tuesday that she objects to vaccines on both religious and medical grounds.

Ten times more children and teens obese today than 40 years ago


(CNN) The number of obese children and adolescents rose to 124 million in 2016 — more than 10 times higher than the 11 million classified as obese 40 years ago, in 1975.

A further 213 million children and adolescents were overweight in 2016, finds a new study published Tuesdayin the Lancet.
Looking at the broader picture, this equated to roughly 5.6% of girls and 7.8% of boys being obese last year.
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Most countries within the Pacific Islands, including the Cook Islands and Nauru, had the highest rates globally, with more than 30% of their youth ages 5 to 19 estimated to be obese.
The United States and some countries in the Caribbean, such as Puerto Rico, as well as the Middle East, including Kuwait and Qatar, came next with levels of obesity above 20% for the same age group, according to the new data, visualized by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration.

“Over the past four decades, obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally, and continue to do so in low- and middle-income countries,” said Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London in the UK, who led the research.
“More recently, they have plateaued in higher-income countries, although obesity levels remain unacceptably high,” he said.
Over the same time period, the rise in obesity has particularly accelerated in East and South Asia.
“We now have children who are gaining weight when they are 5 years old,” unlike children at the same age two generations ago, Ezzati told CNN.
What is obesity?

What is obesity? 01:15
In the largest study of its kind, more than 1,000 researchers collaborated to analyze weight and height data for almost 130 million people, including more than 31 million people 5 to 19 years old, to identify obesity trends from 1975 to 2016.
“Rates of child and adolescent obesity are accelerating in East, South and Southeast Asia, and continue to increase in other low and middle-income regions,” said James Bentham, a statistician at the University of Kent, who co-authored the paper.
Obesity in adults is defined using a person’s body mass index, the ratio between weight and height. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is classified as a healthy weight, 25 to 29.9 considered overweight and 30 and over obese. Cut-offs are lower among children and adolescents and vary based on age.
“While average BMI among children and adolescents has recently plateaued in Europe and North America, this is not an excuse for complacency as more than one in five young people in the U,S. and one in 10 in the UK are obese,” he said.

Greater risk as an adult

Being obese as a child comes with a high likelihood of being obese as an adult and the many health consequences that come with it, including the increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
The potential for these chronic conditions into adulthood also puts an increased burden on health systems — and financial constraints on individuals.
“We are seeing very worrying trends with pediatricians who have children come in as young as 7 with type 2 diabetes,” said Temo Waqanivalu, programme officer for population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases at the World Health Organization. WHO co-led the research with Imperial College London.
Type 2 diabetes is typically an adult-onset condition, he told CNN.

Ongoing undernutrition

The new research also revealed ongoing problems on the other end of the body mass spectrum — being underweight — with 192 million estimated to be moderately or severely underweight worldwide in 2016. In adults, being underweight is defined as a BMI under 18.5.
Unlike the obesity trend, the number of children and adolescents who are underweight has been declining globally since 1975, the paper found, but numbers remain high.
For example, in India and Pakistan, 50.1% and almost 41.6% of girls, respectively, were underweight in 2016 — down from 59.9% and 54% in 1975. Numbers were similar among boys in 2016, at 58.1% and 51%, respectively.
Being underweight comes with its own health consequences among children and adolescents, including a greater risk of infectious disease and potential harm during pregnancy for adolescents and women old enough to have children.
“We mustn’t forget that undernutrition remains a major global public health problem,” commented Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States. Hu was not involved in the research.
“We’re experiencing this double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition at the same time,” Hu told CNN, adding that “this is nothing new.”
When asked about the key findings from this research, Ezzati highlights three points that need the most attention — that numbers of underweight children is persisting and obesity in high-income countries is plateauing, while the increase has sped up in East Asia. “Obesity and underweight are just as important,” he said.

Why it’s happening

Over the past four decades, many countries underwent a “nutrition transition” as their economies grew, explained Hu. In those countries, such as India and China, people on the higher socioeconomic end of the spectrum became obese, he said, while people on the spectrum’s lower end were underweight — at first.
“But when countries become more wealthy, the trends become reversed,” with the poorer population having access to cheaper, unhealthy foods and richer populations opting for healthier items, said Hu.
“There is a continued need for policies that enhance food security in low-income countries and households, especially in South Asia,” said Ezzati. “But, our data also show that the transition from underweight to overweight and obesity can happen quickly in an unhealthy nutritional transition, with an increase in nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods.”
We need a healthy transition, Ezzati said.
Experts believe countries therefore need to prioritize both problems, which they have not done to date.
“Our findings highlight the disconnect between the global dialogue on overweight and obesity, which has largely overlooked the remaining under-nutrition burden, and the initiatives and donors focusing on under-nutrition that have paid little attention to the looming burden of overweight and obesity,” said Ezzati.
“If programs have always targeted getting more calories into children, they’re not prepared when obesity hits, he said.
“Whoever is to blame for this epidemic, it’s not the children,” Waqanivalu said, adding that governments have created environments in which parents and children are surrounded by unhealthy food options and inadequate options for physical exercise.
“(Children) don’t have much say in the environment they are brought up in,” he said. “Parents only respond to the environment being created. The government determines the environment.”

Putting solutions in place

“This data is stating what we have already said, but now quantifying the magnitude of the problem,” said Waqanivalu. “By releasing (the data), we hope to generate more political action from countries.”
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Waqanivalu went on to explain there are proven measures that work to reduce obesity rates, such as sugar taxes, restricting marketing of unhealthy foods to children and policies to increase physical activity at schools.
“It’s our hope that countries will see how big the problem is (in their population), know the solution and be able to take some steps,” said Waqanivalu.
“This study is an important wake-up call for countries where childhood obesity if increasing rapidly, especially in parts of Asia where the economy is still developing quickly and the prevalence of childhood obesity is rising,” said Hu whose own work has explored the rise in obesity rates in China and India.
“Dietary patterns are changing rapidly and accelerating obesity … and will lead to chronicdisease down the road,” said Hu.
Along with undernutrition, “we should be vigilant about both problems.”

What Filthy Old Birds Can Tell Us About Air Pollution

By analyzing sooty birds housed in museum collections, scientists have been able to track patterns of US air pollution over the last 135 years. As the new study shows, air at the turn of the 20th century was even dirtier than we thought—a finding that will now be used to improve our climate models.

Horned larks, in addition to their dazzling yellow chins, feature a white underside that, unfortunately for them, is really good at absorbing tiny bits of black carbon; free-floating atmospheric soot clings to their feathers like dust to a feather duster. Today, most of these songbirds are able to maintain their bright, white appearance, but at the turn of the 20th century, horned larks were a miserable dark grey, particularly in areas where coal was king.

New research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesshows that, by tracking the degree of sootiness in these birds over time, scientists can build a historical record of atmospheric soot. In this case, scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago and the University of Chicago compared the amount of soot on 1,347 birds kept in Rust Belt museum collections to track environmental pollution over the past 135 years (Rust Belt cities tracked in the study included Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc.).

“The soot on these birds’ feathers allowed us to trace the amount of black carbon in the air over time, and we found that the air at the turn of the century was even more polluted than scientists previously thought,” said Shane DuBay, a co-author of the new study, in a statement. “If you look at Chicago today, the skies are blue. But when you look at pictures of Beijing and Dehli, you get a sense for what US cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh were once like. Using museum collections, we were able to reconstruct that history.”

Image: Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay, The University of Chicago and The Field Museum

Atmospheric black carbon is still a serious public health and environmental concern. Produced by burning coal, it’s a major contributor to human-instigated climate change. Scientists need accurate environmental data to track historical changes in air pollution over time, and crucially, to build increasingly accurate models for future climate scenarios. Unfortunately, however, modern environmental sampling didn’t start until the 1950s, so there’s a big gap in the scientific literature. This latest study is an effort to fill in some of this missing data.

As this new study reveals, that missing data is embedded within the feathers of birds kept in natural history collections. Ornithologists at the Field Museum and elsewhere are well aware that specimens from the early 1900s are darker than expected, with atmospheric soot considered the likely culprit.

For the study, co-author Carl Fuldner developed a photographic technique that allowed him to measure the amount of reflected light bouncing off the birds (fewer reflections means more soot has been absorbed by the feathers). Fuldner and DuBay analyzed five different species of birds with this technique, all of which lived and bred in the Manufacturing Belt of the United States.

The researchers then plotted the amount of reflective light to the year in which the birds were collected (between 1880 and 2015), while also looking into the social history of urban air pollution.

“We were surprised by the precision we were able to achieve,” said DuBay in the statement. “The soot on the birds closely tracks the use of coal over time. During the Great Depression, there’s a sharp drop in black carbon on the birds because coal consumption dropped—once we saw that, it clicked.”

In addition, scientists documented an increase in bird sootiness during the Second World War, when wartime manufacturing drove up coal use, and a quick drop off after the war when people in the Rust Belt began to heat their homes with natural gas instead of coal.

“The fact that the more recent birds are cleaner doesn’t mean we’re in the clear,” DuBay cautions. “While the US releases far less black carbon into the atmosphere than we used to, we continue to pump less-conspicuous pollutants into our atmosphere—those pollutants just aren’t as visible as soot. Plus, many people around the world still experience soot-choked air in their cities.”

This study, in addition to revising our historical climate models, demonstrates the importance of maintaining museum collections. Data can often be found in the places where we least suspect. It also shows that a return to coal is probably not a good idea.

Seeing hope: FDA panel considers gene therapy for blindness


A girl saw her mother’s face for the first time. A boy tore through the aisles of Target, marveling at toys he never knew existed. A teen walked onto a stage and watched the stunned expressions of celebrity judges as he wowed “America’s Got Talent.”

Caroline, Cole, Christian. All had mere glimmers of vision and were destined to lose even that because of an inherited eye disease with no treatment or cure.

Until now.

On Thursday, U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers will consider whether to recommend approval of a gene therapy that improved vision for these three youths and some others with hereditary blindness.

It would be the first gene therapy in the U.S. for an inherited disease, and the first in which a corrective gene is given directly to a patient. Only one gene therapy is sold in the U.S. now, a cancer treatment approved in August that engineers patients’ blood cells in the lab.


Children, parents, doctors and scientists will tell the FDA panel what it’s like to lack and then gain one of our most primal senses.

Cole Carper, an 11-year-old boy who got the therapy when he was 8, describes how sight changed what he knew of the world. When he returned to his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, after treatment, “I looked up and said, ‘What are those light things?’ And my mom said, ‘Those are stars.'”

His sister, 13-year-old Caroline Carper, treated when she was 10, said that afterward, “I saw snow falling and rain falling. I was completely surprised. I thought of water on the ground or snow on the ground. I never thought of it falling,” because the sky was something she couldn’t see, along with other things like her mother’s smile.

The treatment , Luxturna, is made by Philadelphia-based Spark Therapeutics. It does not give 20-20 vision or work for everyone, but a company-funded study found it improved vision for nearly all of those given it and seemed safe. The company’s Nasdaq ticker symbol is ONCE, for how often it hopes the therapy is needed.

“It’s exciting” and in some cases might be a cure, although how long the benefits last isn’t known, said Dr. Paul Yang, an eye specialist at Oregon Health & Science University who is testing gene therapies for other companies. “There’s nothing else for these kids.”


The therapy has wider implications but was tested for Leber congenital amaurosis, or LCA, caused by flaws in a gene called RPE65. Those with it can’t make a protein needed by the retina , tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into signals to the brain that lets us see. People often see only bright light and blurry shapes and eventually lose all sight.

Parents are carriers of the flawed gene and it can lurk undetected for generations, suddenly emerging when an unlucky combination gives a child two copies of it.

“It’s usually a surprise that they have a blind child,” said Dr. Jean Bennett, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who with her husband, Dr. Albert Maguire, led testing at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The couple designed an obstacle course to test vision after treatment, and the FDA accepted it as a valid measure of success.

“The maze was actually Al’s idea. I put it together first in our driveway,” using white tiles with arrows, foam rolls and cones, and black spaces to simulate holes that kids should avoid, Bennett said.

Maguire did many of the 45-minute operations to deliver the gene therapy; the rest were done at the University of Iowa. It involves puncturing the white part of the eye and injecting a modified virus that contains the corrective gene into the retina. Benefits appear within a month.


Eighteen of 20 treated study participants improved on the mobility maze a year later, and 13 passed the test at the lowest light level. None in a comparison group of nine patients did. That group was allowed to get the therapy after waiting one year, so in all, 29 were treated, plus more in earlier studies. The two who did not improve may not have had enough healthy retinal cells to respond to treatment; one improved on other tests and another stopped deteriorating.

About half of those treated were able to read three or more additional lines on an eye chart, but the variability between the groups was too big to be sure, statistically, that they were different on this measure.

Many are no longer legally blind and gained independence.

“There were children who were able to move from a Braille classroom to a sighted classroom. One person who had never worked was able to get a job,” said Dr. Katherine High, president of Spark Therapeutics and the scientist who pioneered the therapy when previously at the children’s hospital.

There were two serious side effects, both deemed unrelated to the gene therapy itself. One was due to a drug given afterward and another was a complication of the surgery.


Ashley Carper recalled when her children were diagnosed with the disease.

“The doctor came out with tears in his eyes. He said it was the same condition and they will be blind, and nothing could be done. Nothing.”

Cole and Caroline used canes and went to a school for the blind.

“Cole played football but he played center,” and just stood on the field after the snap to the quarterback because he couldn’t see well enough to do more, his mother said.

Ten years ago, she went to a support group conference and happened to sit next to Bennett. It took two years for gene testing to determine whether the Carper kids would qualify for the study, and insurance wouldn’t pay because there was no established treatment. A Dallas hospital picked up the tab.

Finally, the siblings were enrolled in the study, but they landed in the comparison group so they had to wait a year to be treated. About a week after Cole’s treatment, they went shopping at Target.

“When we got to the Nerf aisle I was like, ‘Whoa, mom, what is THAT? Can I get this? Can I get that? Because I had never seen what that stuff looked like,” Cole said.

Caroline has had her own delights.

“Oh yikes, colors. Colors are super fun,” she said. “And the sunshine is blinding.”


For Christian Guardino, a senior at Patchogue-Medford High School on Long Island, the most remarkable part about performing on “America’s Got Talent” a day before his 17th birthday earlier this year wasn’t winning the golden buzzer that showered gold confetti on him and sent him into further competition. It was seeing the confetti thanks to his gene therapy several years ago.

“I walked out on that stage all by myself,” he said. “I saw the judges. It was incredible.”

His mother, Beth Guardino, said the judges didn’t know about Christian’s blindness and gene therapy until after his audition.

Before treatment, “it was dark, life without light,” Christian said. “I found a way to work through it, to cope with it, and that was music.”

Since treatment, “I’ve been able to see the most incredible things. I’m able to see stars, I’m able to see fireworks, snow falling,” he said. His favorite? “The moon. Most definitely. I’m a huge astronomy fan.”


The FDA must decide by Jan. 18 whether to approve Luxturna. What it might cost is a worry. One gene therapy sold in Europe cost $1 million and was used by only one or two people; another has had few takers.

Spark’s chief executive, Jeff Marrazzo, would not give an estimate for cost, which companies usually announce only after approval. Some rare disease treatments run a quarter to three-quarters of a million dollars a year. Spark has talked with insurers and “there is a clear path for it to be reimbursed one time per eye,” he said.

More than 260 genes can cause inherited retinal disorders, affecting 3 million worldwide. RPE65 mutations can cause other vision diseases besides LCA, so if the treatment is approved, it should be for people with the flawed gene rather than a specific disease, said Dr. Eric Pierce at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear, who was involved in its early testing.

Laura Manfre founded Sofia Sees Hope, a group named for her 14-year-old daughter, Sofia Priebe, who has LCA but not the gene Luxturna targets. The Connecticut woman will represent families at the FDA hearing.

Sofia said she longs for a therapy that would let her “drive a car, walk into a room and be able to identify my friends, to be able to do my own makeup and to read a book in print … and see the night sky.”