Sunday, April 19, 2009

Irresponsible medical scares over vaccines bear fruit

London suffering from shocking rise in rare 'Victorian' diseases

London is suffering a startling rise in diseases associated with Victorian times, official figures reveal today. Rare infectious illnesses including typhoid, whooping cough and scarlet fever have soared by 166 per cent in the past two years, with the number of cases of mumps - a disease easily prevented with vaccine - rising from 125 in 2007 to 393 last year - an increase of 214 per cent. Justine Greening, the shadow minister for London, said infection rates in the capital are markedly higher than the national averages.

The rise could be a result of parents refusing the MMR jab after now-debunked claims in 2001 that it might be linked to autism. Mumps can lead to hearing loss and damage the nervous system in adults.

The figures also showed cases of the highly-contagious whooping cough have quadrupled in the five years to 2007, from 63 to 252. Symptoms include choking spells and vomiting and can cause death, especially in young infants. Meanwhile cases of scarlet fever, which causes high fevers, rashes, and severe damage to internal organs, are up 153 per cent since 2005, with 501 infected in London last year. Typhoid, which is associated with poor sanitation and hygiene, has risen steadily since 2004, from 45 to 127 cases per year.

The Conservatives claimed the Government was partly to blame for failing to invest enough in public health and to appoint school nurses. Ms Greening, MP for Putney, said: 'The rise of these highly infectious and potentially fatal diseases in our city is truly alarming. 'The Government must do more to ensure the public health of Londoners.'


Diabetics in stem-cell trial go for years without insulin jab

Patients with type 1 diabetes who received an experimental stem-cell treatment have been able to go as long as four years without needing insulin, researchers say. Stem-cell transplants have effectively "reversed" the condition and freed a small group of patients from the need to have daily injections to control their condition.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as "insulin-dependent" diabetes, occurs when the body loses the ability to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Distinct from type 2 diabetes that is associated with obesity, it is usually diagnosed in childhood and typically requires lifelong insulin therapy in the form of injections or pumps. But patients given a transplant of stem cells made from their own bone marrow have regained the ability to produce the vital hormone, and have managed to cease their insulin injections for an average of are involved in the production of natural insulin in the body, Dr Burt said. One patient did not use insulin for four years, four patients remained insulin-free for three years and three patients for two years, and four patients did not use insulin for more than a year after treatment with the stem cells, Dr Burt said.

To find out if the change was lasting the research team measured levels of C-peptides, a marker that shows how well the body is producing insulin. They found levels increased "up to 24 months after transplantation and were maintained until at least 36 months". Even in the group that had to restart insulin there was a significant increase in C-peptide levels that lasted at least two years. "At the present time [it] remains the only treatment capable of reversing type 1 diabetes mellitus in humans," the team wrote. A potential drawback is that it is likely to work only within three months of the diagnosis of diabetes in patients, before the immune system has destroyed all the body's own islet cells.

Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, said: "Preliminary findings from this small study were reported in 2007. Although this remains an interesting area of research, the importance of a limited extension to this study should not be overstated - this is not a cure for type 1 diabetes. "As we said in 2007, we would like to see this experiment carried out with a control group for comparison of results and a longer-term follow-up in a greater number of people."

He added: "It is crucial to find out whether this is associated with the timing of the treatment or possible side-effects of it rather than the stem cell transplant itself. "It would be wrong to unnecessarily raise the hopes of people living with diabetes about a new treatment for the condition on the back of the evidence provided in this study."


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