Stick to what you're famous for

Before I say anything else about the matter, it's important to acknowledge how unbelievably difficult and painful things must be for John Travolta and his family right now. I am very sorry that he lost his son, and I have no doubt that he loved him very much.

That being said, there is a great deal of information related to this story that makes me very uneasy and a little angry. From the AP:

Preston and Travolta have said that Jett became very sick when he was 2 years old and was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, an illness that leads to inflamed blood vessels in young children. Preston blamed household cleaners and fertilizers, and said that a detoxification program based on teachings from the Church of Scientology helped improve his health, according to People magazine.

Let us be very clear about this -- Kawasaki Syndrome does not cause seizures. It causes inflammation of the lymph nodes, irritation of the lips and eyes, and can damage the heart. It has no association with epilepsy.

Far more infuriating, however, is the assertion that toxic chemicals caused the illness, and that "detoxification" would have any effect whatsoever on its clinical course. We don't know what causes Kawasaki syndrome, but it is suspected that the source is viral. Epidemiological information has been collected for over three decades, and no link between household cleaners or fertilizers has ever been discerned. I don't know what kind of claptrap the Scientologists told Travolta, but it has no connection with actual reality.

And thus we reach my main point. As a pediatrician, nothing raises my blood pressure quite like some celebrity spreading false and misleading "information" about medical issues. Heaven only knows how many credulous individuals are going to freak out about the Lysol they use the next time their kid gets a fever because of John Travolta. His coreligionist Tom Cruise did the world no favors when he claimed that post-partum depression could be fixed by diet and exercise, but thankfully there was another celebrity handy to rebut him, so let's call that one a wash. (I never really thought I would see the day I was grateful for the level-headedness of Brooke Shields.)

The one that still sets my teeth on edge, however, is Jenny McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy rose to her highest levels of celebrity for being funnier than one would have guessed on an MTV dating game, and also naked a lot of the time. Her son, Evan, supposedly once had autism and now does not. What does she blame? Three guesses. She's been in People magazine, and on Oprah and CNN, saying that vaccines cause autism. To date, there have been numerous studies including hundreds of thousands of children, and no relationship between vaccines and autism has been found. So, if there is a link, it is scientifically undetectable.

But you know what we will see if we stop vaccinating children? Diphtheria. (It's still in eastern Europe.) Polio. (They still have it in Africa.) Epiglottitis. (It's far from gone here in the US.) And a host of other illnesses, some worse than others, none of them pleasant. Once a certain threshold of vaccination is missed, infections will re-emerge. And while Ms. McCarthy may say on CNN that she would rather her child have measles than get the vaccine, presumably she wouldn't say that to the mothers of 197,000 people worldwide who died of measles in 2007.

Household cleaners don't cause Kawasaki syndrome, which in turn doesn't cause seizures. Vaccines don't cause autism. And new mothers can't necessarily exercise their depression away. Famous people should do what they're good at, like saying words other people wrote and being overpaid for it. For medical advice, ask your doctor.

1 comment:

  1. Don't you know that playboy models know more than Pediatricians? Or epidemiologists? Or Chemists? Jenny McCarthy simply doesn't understand the only reason people listen to her is because of her body.