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National Infant Immunization Week: Spotlight on Rotavirus and Pertussis

Transmission electron micrograph of intact rotavirus particles. National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30 this year. This week, the History of Vaccines blog features posts about several diseases that can be prevented by vaccination of infants.

Although its name is not as well known as those of diseases like chickenpox or measles, rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children and infants worldwide. Before a vaccine was introduced in the United States, the disease caused more than 400,000 doctor's visits and 200,000 emergency room visits each year, causing as many as 60 deaths annually in U.S. children younger than five.

The virus spreads easily among children, and can also be passed from children to those with whom they're in close contact. Rotavirus spreads via the fecal-oral route -- that is, from the waste of an infected person to the mouth of another individual. This can occur via contamination on hands or objects like toys.

Rotavirus can be prevented by vaccination. The first dose of the vaccine series is recommended at two months of age. More

National Infant Immunization Week: Spotlight on Diphtheria

Diphtheria is still endemic in these countries. (Click on the image to view it at full size.) National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30 this year. This week, the History of Vaccines blog will feature posts about several diseases that can be prevented by vaccination of infants.

Diphtheria, now nearly unknown in the United States, was once a common childhood affliction. In 1921 the country recorded more than 200,000 cases and more than 15,000 deaths, with the highest percentage of fatal cases among children younger than five. Although the last recorded case in the United States was in 2003, diphtheria remains endemic in many countries.

The disease is caused by a bacterium, Corynebacterium diphtheria, although the actual damage is not done by the bacterium itself. Instead, it secretes a toxin that damages the body's tissues. The most unique symptom of diphtheria is a thick gray substance that can spread over the nasal tissues, tonsils, larynx, and/or pharynx. This substance, called a pseudomembrane, can block the airways; in fact, diphtheria was known in Spain as "el garatillo" -- "the strangler." The toxin produced by the bacterium can also travel through the bloodsteam and damage other organs. More

History of Vaccines Wins Awards

In mid-April, The History of Vaccines was awarded two prestigious honors. First, the Webby Awards: Along with sites from National Geographic, the Exploratorium, NOVA, and Columbia University's Earth Institute, The History of Vaccines was selected as an honoree in the Science category of the Webby Awards. Colloquially known as "The Oscars of the Internet," the Webby Awards are the best-known honor for websites, presented annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Fewer than 15% of entries for Webby Awards were selected as honorees. More

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Baruch Blumberg, Nobel Laureate, Pioneer of Hepatitis B Research, Dies at 85

In the 1960s, a medical doctor was interested in studying the influence that a person’s genes could have on susceptibility to disease, with an eye toward developing personalized medicine. By identifying individuals at high risk for a disease and studying environmental factors that interacted with their particular genetic variations, he hoped, researchers could develop approaches that at-risk individuals could use to prevent them from getting sick.

 With colleagues, he traveled across the globe collecting blood samples from different populations. One set of samples produced a curious reaction: antibodies in the blood from a New York City hemophilia patient reacted with blood from a seemingly healthy Australian Aborigine. The serum from the hemophilia patient contained an antibody that reacted to something in the Australian’s blood.

That “something” would eventually be called the Australia antigen. The researcher was Baruch Blumberg.

Dr. Blumberg passed away on April 5, 2011, at the age of 85. More

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NYAS: March 28 Vaccine Event

CDC Please join the New York Academy of Sciences for “Vaccines under the Gun: Politics, Science, Media and the Law,” taking place on Monday, March 28 (1:00 PM – 5:00 PM) at the New York Academy of Sciences conference center in New York City. Esteemed speakers Paul Offit, MD (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Dan Thomasch (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe) and Trine Tsouderos (Chicago Tribune) will examine historical approaches to vaccination, the evolution and use of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, community-wide and personal safety considerations, social implications of these decisions, and the impact of recent legal cases (CHOP vs Health Care Workers Union 1199, AFL-CIO; Bruesewitz vs Wyeth). Perri Klass, MD (New York University) will moderate a panel discussion. This symposium is presented by the New York Academy of Sciences’ Vaccine Science Discussion Group. More

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Interview with Paul Offit and Seth Mnookin

On March 1, The History of Vaccines hosted "Vaccine Science, Realities, and Fears in the Popular Mind" at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Paul Offit, MD, an infectious disease physician and vaccine developer, and Seth Mnookin, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, discussed their new books as well as the past and future of vaccination as depicted in the media, among parents, and in the medical world. More

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What We're Researching: Typhoid Fever History

First typhoid inoculation at the U.S. Army Medical School. Recently we’ve been developing new material for our historical timelines. In the near future, we’re planning to add some entries on typhoid fever and the development of typhoid vaccines. In the meantime, we wanted to share a bit of what we've found. More

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Don't Forget: Offit and Mnookin in Philadelphia, March 1, 6:30 pm

On Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 pm, The History of Vaccines will present Paul A. Offit, MD, and Seth Mnookin speaking about their new books – Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. We'll be webcasting at the College's Livestream channel: http://www.livestream.com/collegeofphysicians. We hope you'll join us in person or online for this thought-provoking event. More

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Bruesewitz vs. Wyeth Case Resolved

Pertussis bacteria, Copyright Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on February 22 on Bruesewitz vs. Wyeth, upholding a federal law that established protection for vaccine makers from lawsuits and that provides compensation for certain vaccine injuries.

The Bruesewitz suit claimed that a vaccine Hannah Bruesewitz received in 1992 (her third dose of the diphtheria-whole cell pertussis-tetanus vaccine) was defective in its composition and thus resulted in the girl’s seizures and developmental delays. The Bruesewitz family earlier had been denied compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, stating that "Vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries; in exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict."  He asserted that the intention of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (which established NVICP) to exclude drug design defects from liability claims is evident in its “lack of guidance for design defects combined with the expansive guidance for the grounds of liability specifically mentioned.” More

Reminder and Webcast Notice: Offit and Mnookin, March 1, 6:30 pm

Many of you have emailed and called us to ask if we'll be webcasting the March 1 event here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The answer is yes. Please tune in if you can't be here in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 pm, The History of Vaccines will present Paul A. Offit, MD, and Seth Mnookin speaking about their new books – Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. We'll be webcasting at the College's Livestream channel: http://www.livestream.com/collegeofphysicians. More

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