Dispatch: Rotavirus, Time, and Salt

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FDA Panics

According to the Associated Press, “[FDA] officials urged pediatricians Monday to temporarily stop using one of two vaccines against a leading cause of diarrhea in babies, after discovering that doses of GlaxoSmithKline’s Rotarix were contaminated with bits of an apparently benign pig virus."

Dr. Paul Offit, ACSH Trustee and co-inventor of the other rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, believes there is no reason for alarm. “The PCV1 virus they found is an orphan virus, i.e., it is not associated with disease -- even in pigs,” he explains. “We live in a microbe-rich world, and if they amplify and sequence many other substances -- even breast milk -- some remnants of microbial and viral DNA will be found.”

“This is more like biomonitoring than it is like any actual health problem,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Some researchers were apparently randomly assaying this vaccine and they found genetic residue of this virus. It has absolutely nothing to do with any health threat, so the FDA overreacted out of excess caution. This should have been a non-event. Even the EMEA, a European drug agency, was unconcerned when they heard about this. Since rotavirus-induced diarrhea is a major killer in the underdeveloped world, I hope no one is sickened needlessly by the temporary loss of this vaccine.”

Time Tries to Make Women Panic

An article in Time Magazine shares horror stories about various women who suffered side effects of statin drugs.

“This article uses inflammatory language in an apparent attempt to frighten women out of using life-saving statins,” says Dr. Ross. “Women are prescribed statins to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. The thrust of this author’s thesis is that the side effects of statins are extremely dangerous. In fact, statins are among safest drugs that we have, and they are very well studied because they have been in use since 1987, and are, in fact, the world’s most prescribed type of medicine.

“There is a slight risk of muscle pain, and a very slight risk of a serious muscle inflammation called rhabdomyolysis, but it is extremely rare. The author neglects to point out that people experiencing milder side effects can switch to other statin drugs.”

“This article actually debunks an argument regularly made by former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell, who claims that we don’t need what she derogatorily calls ‘me too drugs,’” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “If you follow the Angell argument that we only need one type of statin, then Time would have a point about these side effects. We don’t live in that world, however, since there are many statins that people can choose from to minimize their risk of side effects.”

Designer Salt

PepsiCo is currently developing a “designer salt” with a modified crystalline structure, which reduces the amount of salt required to achieve the same degree of “saltiness” on their Lay’s potato chips.

Stier has already encountered skeptics: “The head of a food activist group criticized the research on Twitter, asking ‘What’s next? Designer Fat?’ And I told him that actually we already have designer fats, we just need more and better ones. We’ve engaged with these activists before, and they are really averse to using food technology to help solve the obesity problem and, in this case, reduce sodium intake. All they want to do is criticize industry. Not only are they not offering useful advice to those people trying to lose weight, they are actually an obstacle. We will hold them accountable.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).