The Belgian shutdown has started

You can tell things are getting bad when Belgium gets a government. This is, of course, only a temporary government — negotiations are still ongoing for the new federal government — but prime minister, Sophie Wilmès now has powers for six months to take measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic without requiring parliamentary approval.

The first thing this government did was to declare a declare a nation-wide shutdown as of noon today. Until 5th April, we are all expected to stay at home except for essential reasons, such as food shopping, or outdoor physical activities which can only be done with people living in the same house.

They are trying to avoid calling this a lockdown for fear of negative connotations. But that’s what this is.

Compared to yesterday, we’re not that much affected. I’m already working from home and Eve is still able to take the boys out in the afternoon in order to prevent us all going stir crazy. Because I am not walking to work at present, I have taken to taking a walk around town before I start working and again when I have finished. This is still allowed as long as I don’t talk to anyone.

In slightly more positive news, a citizens’ initiative has been launched aiming to bring together isolated people with volunteers available to gather and deliver essential shopping. The idea from Covid Solidarity is to make shopping list templates for printing out available to people who find themselves isolated.

Once completed, the list may be placed in a visible position in front of one’s house so that a neighbour can pick it up and set about making the necessary purchases.

The shopping is then deposited without physical contact, and reimbursement for purchases made is handled directly by the person lending assistance and the person being assisted, according to the procedure detailed on the site.

And two Dutch universities are looking into whether a vaccine for tuberculosis can be used to boost immune systems which may mean fewer and less severe infections.

Mad compromise of the moment

The Belgium National Security Council met on Thursday to come up with new measures to address the public concern surrounding the coronavirus. They have come up with a number of measures that, essentially, amount to cancelling weekends and, bizarrely:

All classes at school will be suspended, but schools will be asked to provide care, especially for parents who are unable to look after their children during school hours. The Prime Minister has called for children not to be taken care of by grandparents.

In other words, schools will remain both open and closed until the end of the month.

According to Politico, this is the result of disagreement between Flemish and French-speaking politicians:

Whereas French-speaking politicians wanted to close down all schools in Belgium, as is now the case in France, Flemish politicians were more reluctant to do so, fearing an economic shock. A compromise was found by suspending all classes but not closing all schools.

After the press conference, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stressed that schools are not shutting down completely. “Closing all schools would be a problem for people who work in the health sector or for parents whose children can only be cared for by grandparents. That is precisely the most vulnerable group. Parents who can’t find a solution for their children can still rely on schools.”

I am certainly sympathetic to the view that offloading kids onto grandparents — the most vulnerable group — for the best part of three weeks would be insane. But if schools are going to stay partly open, I don’t see the value in not keeping them fully open.

Then again, it probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the country that gave us Magritte would also be the first country to invent Schrödinger’s School.

Publishing Bias in Action

The AllTrials campaign is calling for all past and present clinical trials to be registered and their full methods and summary results to be reported. To demonstrate why this matters, they have a Clinical trial publishing game, from The Economist.

The results of around half of all clinical trials have never been published. Failing to publish results means the people who make decisions about medicines don’t have full information about the benefits and risks of treatments we use every day.

Go have a play. It’s amazing how much you can skew your results by not publishing the weaker results.

Better out than in

Fart smells have health benefits (via Sploid)

When cells become stressed by disease they try to draw in enzymes to generate their own minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide.

The chemical helps to preserve mitochondria, which drive energy production in blood vessel cells and regulate inflammation, and without it the cell can switch off and die.

Fellow researcher Dr. Mark Wood added: “Although hydrogen sulfide is well known as a pungent, foul-smelling gas in rotten eggs and flatulence, it is naturally produced in the body and could in fact be a healthcare hero with significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases.”

That’s my excuse but if you want an alternative view, Dean Burnett speculates on what would happen if a mainstream science report was actually true.

Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare

Book Testing Treatments is a book I heard about (if my memory serves me correctly) by way of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. He described it as the “best pop science book on Evidence Based Medicine ever,” and I was sufficiently interested to add it to my Amazon wish list. I don’t know how many pop science books on Evidence Based Medicine have been written, but this one is very good indeed.

To quote the blurb:

How do we know whether a particular treatment really works? How reliable is the evidence? And how do we ensure that research into medical treatments best meets the needs of patients? These are just a few of the questions addressed in a lively and informative way in Testing Treatments. Brimming with vivid examples, Testing Treatments will inspire both patients and professionals.

Building on the success of the first edition, Testing Treatments has now been extensively revised and updated. The second edition includes a thought-provoking chapter on screening, explaining why early diagnosis is not always better. Other new chapters explore how over-regulation of research can work against the best interests of patients, and how robust evidence from research can be drawn together to shape the practice of healthcare in ways that allow treatment decisions to be reached jointly by patients and clinicians.

Testing Treatments urges everyone to get involved in improving current research and future treatment, and outlines practical steps that patients and doctors can take together.

What the book does is lay out – very clearly – how new treatments should be evaluated, and how they often are evaluated. The disconnect is surprising and the book strongly advocates patients becoming better informed and asking the questions that should be asked if we are to ensure that research isn’t wasteful or harmful, and that treatments actually meet the needs of those receiving them.

The book, which is available from Amazon or as a free PDF, concludes with an action plan of things you can do to ensure that the treatments you receive are the ones that are right for you. I was tempted to paste that plan into this post, but I do think you need the context of the book to fully appreciate it. So instead, I shall just urge you to treat yourself to a copy. It’s well worth it.

Ben Goldacre: Battling bad science

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a non-profit organisation devoted to sharing ideas. They have two annual conferences as well as a number of related events but, for me, their greatest value is in the TED Talks. These are videos of an impressive array of speakers speaking to the conferences.

Many of these are worth sharing, so I give you Ben Goldacre on the subject of Battling Bad Science.

Vaccine-scepticism: Dangerously stupid

Vaccinations are now the victims of their own success.

Due the growth of the number of unvaccinated children over the past few years in Europe, the herd immunity – whereby chains of infection are more able to be disrupted when large numbers of a population are immune to a disease – of the general population has been lost. As a result, those too young to be vaccinated are at significantly greater risk of being infected.

If you don’t vaccinate you’re risking the health of your kids and that of all the kids around you. The more people that fail to vaccinate, the greater this risk becomes.

Child killing spammers complain about being called child killers

The email address associated with Pulpmovies.com is published on that website and has been for the past ten years. Looking at the volume of spam that is fired at that particular inbox, I acknowledge that publishing this email address in a bot-readable manner was a mistake. I also think that it’s now too late to remove it from the site and too much hassle to change it. Consequently, I now push all my Pulpmovies email through Gmail and leave it to Google to stop the spam.

Normally the Chocolate Factory does an excellent job but the occasional oddity does get through. Like the one that turned up today.

But first, some background.

Earlier this month, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta sat down with Bill Gates who was at the World Economic Forum in Davos to push his mission of eradicating polio by 2012. Gates, through his foundation, also pledged $10 billion to provide vaccinations to children around the world within a decade. When Gupta asked Gates about alleged autism-vaccine connection, the billionaire philanthropist’s remarks were both outspoken and accurate.

Well, Dr. Wakefield has been shown to have used absolutely fraudulent data. He had a financial interest in some lawsuits, he created a fake paper, the journal allowed it to run. All the other studies were done, showed no connection whatsoever again and again and again. So it’s an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn’t have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccine, and their children are dead today. And so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.

You can watch the complete interview here.

So to the spam that made it through the filter. Anti-vaccination groups are outraged that Bill Gates has had the temerity to point out that spreading FUD and telling outright lies to concerned parents kills babies.

At the time of writing, the Jenny McCarthy Body Count has identified 74899 vaccine preventable illnesses and 656 vaccine preventable death that have occued in the US since Jenny McCarthy (a particularly loud and dim spokeswoman for the anti-vaccination movement) started spreading bogus claims.

If the numbers don’t move you then Dana McCaffery‘s story will. Go read it.

There is no link between vaccination and autism. People, such as Dr. Wakefield, who use fraudulent data to try and claim otherwise in order to profit from parents’ fears are despicable.

Anti-vaccination campaigners kill children.