Future vaccine may prevent ear infections

A new vaccine that may someday prevent ear infections (otitis media) in children is currently in the works. The vaccine is still a ways out from being tested on children, but the results on chinchillas have been promising so far.

Photo courtesy Tandem Racer
Photo courtesy Tandem Racer

The needleless vaccine, developed by Dr. Lauren Bakaletz, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s hospital, is administered by way of a drop of liquid rubbed into the skin on the outside of the ear.

Dr. Bakaletz says it works by activating cells just under the surface of the skin, called dendritic cells. When this liquid touches the skin, it touches off a response throughout the body.

“These cells deliver it to the lymphoid organs where it can generate an immune response. So really harnessing a power that’s there all the time, but you’re doing it in a way that’s now directed toward a specific disease,” says Dr. Bakaletz.

It seems only natural that moms, especially those of young children, are having some strong reactions to the news of this possible future vaccine. Some of the those I’ve seen from moms thus far include excitement and curiosity, as well as disbelief, frustration and cynicism.

An anonymous commenter on News Anchor Mom said, “Don’t you think we should be looking into the CAUSES of these ear infections rather than just adding yet ANOTHER vaccine to the list? Neither one of my children have ever had an ear infection. They are now 4 and 2.”

Karissa, another commenter, said, “Wow! What an ingenious idea! I am always leery of giving more vaccines but ear infections are the worst! It seemed like for years one of my three kids always had one. The kids were miserable, and couldn’t sleep or eat. … I’m interested to see what happens with this.”

Yet another commenter, Emily from Randomability said, “This sounds promising and it doesn’t go into the ear either. My only concern would be long term side effects.”

Catherine Morgan shares a lot of the same thoughts and concerns that I have regarding this vaccine and vaccines in general and wonders how many is too many.

I wonder how many pharmaceutical companies are bothering to invest in research to actually cure diseases that kill children? Because, why should they bother wasting money on cures for drugs that only a small fraction of children will ever need (buy), when they can make billions on new vaccines for non-life threatening illnesses that can be sold to every child?

Regardless of how you feel about autism, food allergies, or processed foods…When it comes right down to it, pharmaceutical companies are making vaccines that they believe can be most profitable for their companies. I think there comes a time when we (the parents and the consumers) need to decide that we don’t need to vaccinate every child for every illness that they may or may not get.

The thing is our immune systems need to develop by actually fighting off these infections, viruses and diseases on their own. We are already becoming a society with more and more people suffering with auto-immune diseases (like MS, Lupus, Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, Celiac Disease, just to name a few). Personally, I would rather risk my child coming down with the flu, the chicken pox or an ear infection and fighting it off now, than risk their immune system failing them when they really need it later.

Is there a vaccine that we would ever say no to?

A vaccine to end conjunctivitis (pink eye)?
A vaccine to prevent poison ivy?
A vaccine to prevent runny noses or sore throats?
A vaccine to end diaper rash?

Where do we draw the line? How many vaccines is too many?

Interestingly enough, I first learned about this vaccine via an email that was sent to me from a media relations specialist (MRS). She mentioned that she could put me in touch with Dr. Bakaletz so I took her up on her offer and sent her a list of questions that I and other women (both bloggers and non-bloggers) came up with. Some of the questions included:

  • What are the possible side effects of the vaccine? – asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • Who will be the manufacturer of this vaccine?
  • What are the ingredients?
  • Could this vaccine create resistant strains like antibiotics do? – also asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • What are you trying to prevent with the ear infection vaccine – ear infections, the number of children who need tubes in their ears or deafness? – asked by Kayris of Great Walls of Baltimore and Kate

The response I got from the MRS was that the questions were “a bit too detailed for Dr. Bakaletz to answer given where she’s at in the development of her vaccine at this point.” However, she encouraged me to submit some more general questions, so I said:

  • I’d love to know how long the vaccine will be tested (on animals and humans) before it is deemed safe for public use and/or if she knows what the possible side effects are.
  • What prompted her to pursue making an ear infection vaccine?

Again, I was told, “Unfortunately Dr. Bakaletz couldn’t answer your specific questions.” However, she did forward on to me some general information from Dr. Bakaletz. This response left me a bit frustrated and wondering why I was told I could be put in touch with the doctor in the first place.

Whether you are excited about the prospect of this vaccine or not, it will not likely be available any time soon. Dr. Bakaletz notes, “most vaccines have taken 25-30 years from discovery to development, so I can’t really predict how soon the transcutaneous vaccine would be available since we’re still so early in terms of our experience with this vaccination approach.”

In the meantime, children will continue to get ear infections and treating them with antibiotics is not always (in fact, not usually) the best course of treatment. According to this recent Health News article, “Repeated use of antibiotics to treat acute ear infections in young children increases the risk of recurrent ear infections by 20 percent, according to researchers in the Netherlands who called for more prudent use of antibiotics in young children. … Antibiotics may reduce the length and severity of the initial ear infection, but may also result in a higher number of recurrent infections and antibiotic resistance, the researchers stated. Because of this, they said, doctors need to be careful in their use of antibiotics in children with ear infections.” You can read the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for treating ear infections here, which include:

  • Minimize antibiotic side effects by giving parents of select children the option of fighting the infection on their own for 48-72 hours, then starting antibiotics if they do not improve.
  • Encourage families to prevent AOM (acute otitis media) by reducing risk factors. For babies and infants these include breastfeeding for at least six months, avoiding “bottle propping,” and eliminating exposure to passive tobacco smoke.

SafBaby also suggests parents of children who suffer from ear infections might want to look into chiropractic care as an alternative to antibiotics.

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Another reason to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup – mercury!

In case you needed another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup, here’s a new one – it may contain mercury. According to a Washington Post article, “Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.”

Janelle Sorensen (of Healthy Child, Healthy World) co-authored the studies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade report along with Dr. David Wallinga, mentioned in the Washington Post article.

According to Sorensen (who spoke with me via email), at this time it is unknown what species of mercury this is. Personally I don’t know that it matters too much, because mercury is just plain bad for our health.

  • The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.
  • The EPA has determined that mercuric chloride and methylmercury are possible human carcinogens.
  • Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults.

You may recall that the Environmental Protection Agency has issued warnings regarding the consumption of certain types of fish containing mercury for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children.

Should there be warnings against consumption of mercury-laced HFCS too? When you consider HFCS is found in so many food and drink products these days, it may seem hard to avoid. Cereal? Yes. Bread? Yes. Soup? Yes. Lunch meat? Yes. Yogurt? Yes. Condiments? Yes. Soda? YES! Even infant formula can contain corn syrup! If you shop at a conventional grocery store (not a health foods store), check out the ingredients listed on just about anything you buy. You’ll be surprised (and maybe even a little freaked out) how many items contain HFCS. According to the Washington Post, “On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.”

That’s why the HFCS commercials by the Corn Refiners Association are so laughable. They say HFCS is fine in moderation (though they never quantify what that amount is), but how do you consume it in moderation when it’s infiltrated a large percentage of the products in the grocery store?

What really freaks me out though is to know that corn syrup is in infant formula. It might not be high fructose corn syrup, but still. Does a baby need artificial sweeteners? What about genetically modified (GMO corn) sweeteners as most corn is? And more importantly, how can a baby, who’s diet consists solely of formula, possibly consume it in moderation? Or is moderation only necessary for HFCS, but not corn syrup? I tried to find the ingredients in formula listed online and was able to find a few brands – two listed the first ingredient as water, followed by corn syrup. That’s alarming to me.

Increased corn allergies
Could this prevalence of corn in the diets of the youngest of our species, as well as being the number one thing Americans eat (because it’s in nearly everything), be contributing to the rise in corn allergies in this country? My guess is yes.

Returning to the study…
Sorensen shared with me some of her thoughts after doing months of research about HFCS and mercury:

In essence, we rely on a vastly complicated global food system that has many opportunities to go awry. And, not only is the chain of ingredients and manufacturing very complex, the foods we are eating are very complex and unlike anything people ate even two generations ago. HFCS is one story in this grand theater of food production. And, even though the studies are small, it’s clearly an actor that deserves more attention as a potential instigator in the public health drama we are currently witnessing. First of all, HFCS is an unnecessary part of the human diet. We thrived for millennia without it. Second, the caustic soda used to manufacture it can be made using mercury-free technologies. Safer alternatives exist and are used widely at this very moment. Third, even though the exposure is minute, it’s a repeat offender in the average US diet and should also be addressed in the context of combined daily exposures of modern day society.

The authors of both of the studies recognize the limitations of their findings. There is clearly much more research to be done in order to be able to understand what the true health implications may be. Maybe the impacts end up being nominal, but who wants to risk their child’s health and development waiting to find out when it’s such an unnecessary exposure?

Human development is a miracle. The journey from egg and sperm to adult (and even beyond) is a tumultuous and risky endeavor. Research is increasingly showing how very vulnerable the developing fetus is – susceptible to exquisitely small environmental exposures – so, why take an unnecessary chance? Why even allow antiquated technologies that are extremely pollutive; that have safer, economically feasible alternatives; that are completely unnecessary in food production? There is not a single piece of this story that makes sense.

What is the FDA’s response to the request for “immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply?”

Sorensen says:

The FDA and industry are quickly trying to assuage the concerns spread by these reports, calling us irresponsible for setting false alarms. But, the FDA and industry are notorious at this point for coercing people into taking risks their instincts tell them not to. I’m not anti-FDA nor anti-industry; I simply believe in transparency of information. If you decide this risk is nominal, that’s your decision. For me, and my family, it’s not okay. And, it’s extremely simple to avoid.

How do you avoid HFCS?
You buy whole foods, not processed foods. You prepare meals from scratch. You grow your own vegetables and buy from local farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSAs. You look for certified organic foods. You read the labels and find alternatives to the products containing HFCS. It might seem like it’s in everything, but it’s not. There are brands of bread that don’t contain it (even at Costco), just as there are brands of soda, yogurt, and infant formula, but you have to read the labels to find out. Become a wise consumer and vote with your dollars.

Finding balance
It might seem like the best bet it to avoid HFCS at all costs, but even Sorensen admits that she lets her kids consume it once every now and then. “It’s a very small amount and I know I’m very careful about other exposures. Life is all about balance.” Yes, yes it is.

Lastly, if you are looking to reduce the HFCS in your or your family’s life, you might want to check out the blog A Life Less Sweet One family, no high fructose corn syrup, eating healthier. And here are a few more related posts: from Nature’s Child – HFCS, fortified with mercury, from Ask Moxie – Whoa: Mercury in HFCS, and (a really good one) from AngieMedia – High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dangerous for Many Reasons. A couple more: from Mom-101 – High fructose corn syrup contains mercury and other reasons I think we’re going to start feeding our kids air and from Her Bad MotherPoison In The Ketchup: This HFCS Scare Might Actually Make Me Start, You Know, Cooking From Scratch Or Something.

Tots, toys and toxic paint don’t mix

As parents, we do the best we can to ensure our children have the very best start in the world. We may breastfeed them, make their baby food from scratch, buy organic and whole foods, childproof our homes, teach them not to talk to strangers, and a myriad of other things. We trust that when we buy age-appropriate toys for our children, that they will be safe and not pose a choking hazard nor contain toxic elements like lead-based paint. Apparently we are trusting the wrong people.

Photo courtesy juhansonin
Photo courtesy juhansonin

Stephanie of Adventures in Babywearing wrote an interesting post yesterday about her desire to start making homemade gifts for children in light of the recent toy recalls – first with Thomas & Friends and lead paint, then with Fisher Price toys and lead paint and now with Mattel and a concern over magnets and again, lead-based paint. (Are you sensing a disturbing trend here?) All of which, I must add, are made in China. She then brought up the possibly lesser-known fact that Melissa & Doug toys are also made in China.

For those of you unfamiliar with Melissa & Doug, they make educational (including several wooden) toys. We only recently discovered them, but are big fans of them in this house.

I bought Ava the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food set for her birthday this year. She likes to play with it, as does her 8-month-old teething brother Julian, who loves to chew on the pieces of food. I figured they are made of wood, so they’ve got to be better for him to chew on than plastic (with who knows what kinds of chemicals in it). But in light of this scare over toys made in China perhaps I am wrong to assume that.

I checked the label on the bottom of the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food crate to verify that they were made in China (which is true) and also saw “All Melissa & Doug* products are carefully crafted by hand, using non-toxic coatings, and meet or exceed all U.S. toy testing standards.” That is a relief. However, the fact still remains that even the toys you are buying because you think they seem more natural, like wooden toys from Melissa & Doug, are being mass produced (under apparently sub-par safety standards) in factories in China. According to an MSNBC article, “…about 80 percent of toys sold worldwide (are) made in China.” 80 percent!

So where do we go from here? What can we do to product our children?

1) Stay on the lookout for product recalls Since most of us can’t afford to get rid of all of our children’s toys and start anew, we need to be on the lookout for any new toy recalls. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission site is a good source for recall information.

2) Sign petitions to help bring about change. After the recalls for the Thomas toys and then the Fisher Prices toys, MomsRising created an online petition to let Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) know that, “Testing children’s products for toxic chemicals must be a priority. No more toxic toys and children’s products!” You can sign the petition here.

3) Buy “green” or Made in the USA toys — Here are a few resources to help you get started. Willow Tree Toys sells European Waldorf wooden toys that encourage creative, imaginative thinking. While some of their toys are made in China, they state, “We have received safety assurances from the toy companies represented in our store. The products are lead free, non-toxic and have passed all European and American safety tests.” You also have the option of searching their site for toys made specifically in the USA or in Europe. Green Toys Inc. “makes a line of classic children’s toys constructed of bioplastic made from renewable, sustainable resources like corn (yep, you read that right). This will help reduce fossil fuel use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improving the overall health and happiness of the planet. All Green Toys Brand products are manufactured and assembled in the USA!” Still Made in USA is a site with a list of several toy and game companies that are Made in the USA. I’m bookmarking this one. What a great resource!

4) Test for lead paint This might seem a bit extreme, but it’s always good to know your options. If you want to test any of your children’s toys (or anything else for that matter) for lead paint, there’s a kit – LeadCheck Lead Testing Swab Kits – that you can purchase. I’m sure other kits are on the market as well, but this is the first one I came across. Also thanks to Steph, I found out about a new blog called Not China Made.net“an exploration into the dangers of trading with China.” There is a lot of eye-opening information over there (some of which I’d already heard about) that will certainly make me think twice about buying China-made products. To help spread the word about the blog, they are currently having a contest and offering a $50 gift card to AmericanApparel.net. Remember, whether it be toy recalls or anything else in the world, knowledge is power. Be vigilant, arm yourself with information and help protect your kids.

*Edited to add: I wrote to Melissa & Doug last night to express my concerns about toys made in China and lead paint and here’s what they had to say about their product…

Hi Amy – Yes, we definitely appreciate and understand your concern. Please be assured, we test for lead VERY frequently. It’s quite possible to make great quality children’s items in China, which meet all safety regulations, but the key point is that you have to test and inspect very frequently to be sure that your factories are always following your instructions explicitly. I assure you that’s exactly what we do. From our experience, the key to doing this correctly is not simply to insist that your factories follow your instructions, but then to go one step further and to AUDIT, INSPECT, AND TEST very frequently. That is the most important part of the process, and it’s something our company has always taken VERY seriously. Thanks again for asking, and for your support also. Your Dedicated Customer Service Team Melissa & Doug, Inc. 800-284-3948 Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 EST

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