Thursday, June 12, 2008
Medicine must always remember the past By Dr. Anthony Policastro

One of the biggest success stories in medicine has been the use of immunizations. Smallpox is now extinct. In the 1930's thousands of children died each year from common diseases. Those diseases included measles, diphtheria and whooping cough. Now we rarely see those disorders. Meningitis used to be a common disease. I would see several children with meningitis every year. Due to immunizations, I have not seen a child with meningitis in years. Unfortunately, there are some people who do not recognize this valuable historical perspective. They think that a Big Brother type government is forcing immunizations on them. George Santayana was a famous philosopher and poet. He is noted for saying that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That was true in Nigeria. In the year 2000 there were 30 cases of polio throughout the country. Religious leaders convinced people to not have their children immunized. In 2006 there were 888 cases of polio in Nigeria. In 1998 a British physician wrote an article saying that he found 8 children who developed autism after receiving the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The article indicated that it could have been just a coincidence since the numbers were so small. However, there was a group of individuals who jumped on the findings. They indicated that the study showed that autism was clearly linked to vaccines. That was not true. Unfortunately, people that heard about the link did not know that it was based on 8 patients. They did not know that it was likely purely coincidence. We frequently will try to make a link when there is only coincidence. The best example of that is teething. Children will cut 12 teeth between the ages of 6 months and 18 months. That is about one tooth a month. During that same period, their immune system is learning to fight the many infections that we see. Therefore, every time they get an infection, they are cutting a tooth. The relationship is purely coincidental. Since that time, the supposed offending agent thimersol has not been in immunizations since 2001. There has been no effect on the rising number of autism cases after its removal. Autism occurs in one of every 150 children. Its occurrence is still rising. There are clearly two parts to developing autism. One is genetic. Autism clearly runs in families. About 3% of cases of autism are caused by chromosome disorders. The second is environmental. We just do not know what it is in the environment that triggers the disorder in children with the right genetics. The thought at one time was that it was thimersol. That does not seem to be the case. At present time, the evidence does not support immunizations as being the environmental trigger. What we do know are the following facts. If we did not have immunizations, the statistics would be staggering. We would see 14,000,000 additional infections each year. We would spend 10 billion dollars per year treating those infections. 33,000 people would die every year. Some parents want to stop immunizing their children. If they do, sooner or later those children are going to suffer for that decision. It is not likely that it will be as big a headline as the ones that condemn immunizations. Immunizations are the biggest success story in the history of medicine. However, it would appear that some people would like to ignore Santayana and have to learn that lesson all over again.

Stroke support group Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will offer free monthly Stroke Support Group meetings designed for individuals who have survived a stroke and their families and caregivers. Meetings are held the third Thursday of each month at Nanticoke Cancer Care Center, from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. The meetings will consist of guest speakers and breakaway sessions, in which caregivers and survivors will meet in two groups to discuss concerns, provide support and networking. Refreshments will be provided. Sheila Brant and Joan Burditt, occupational therapists at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, will facilitate the support group meetings. Pre-registration not required. For more information, call 629-6611, ext. 5121.

Oncology symposium planned The Sixth Annual Seaside Oncology Symposium will take place Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel in Rehoboth Beach. The Tunnell Cancer Center and the Medical Society of Delaware sponsor this annual, half-day symposium to update participants on the diagnosis and management of cancer. It is designed for physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals. The conference, which begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends with lunch at 1 p.m., is planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and Policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint-sponsorship of the Medical Society of Delaware and Beebe Medical Center. The Seaside Oncology Symposium is supported by unrestricted educational grants from various pharmaceutical companies and programs. Details regarding this year's topics and speakers will be available soon. Hotel reservations may be made directly with the Boardwalk Plaza at 800-332-3224.

Nursing assistant program begins Become a member of the rapidly expanding health care field by taking the evening nurses' assistant course, offered through Delaware Technical & Community College, Owens Campus. Instruction will be given at Lifecare at Lofland Park in Seaford from June 9 to Aug. 27. Classes will meet on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 5 to 10 p.m. This 150-hour course teaches students to safely perform basic nursing skills under the supervision of a licensed nurse. Graduates will be prepared to take the Nurse Aid Competency Exam for certification. All nurses' assistants must take this exam to be certified to work in Delaware. For complete information, contact Delaware Tech's Corporate and Community Programs at 302-854-6966.

Weight Loss Surgery Support The Western New Life WLS Support Group will be having its monthly meeting on June 19. We meet at Trinity United Methodist Church, 17249 Phillips Hill Road, Laurel. We meet each third Thursday of the month. The next meeting is June 19 from 7-8:30 p.m. Everyone who has had, or is thinking about, having weight loss surgery is welcome. Activities:
  • June 19 - bring a new friend night; emotional eating issues.
  • July 17 - craft night - we'll be making new bracelets for our medical IDs.

  • Group Leaders: Jennifer Rosen ( and Heather O'Connor (

    Depression support group The Mental health Association in Delaware will be sponsoring a Depression Support Group in Laurel on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. The MHA encourages anyone dealing with a depressive disorder to attend. Register in advance by calling 1-800-287-6423. Peer support groups sponsored by Mental Health Association of Delaware are not intended to replace professional mental health treatment. MHA does not publish support group locations; locations are provided with registration.

    Caregiver support group Join our monthly support group at the Cheer community center, the second Monday of each month at 11 a.m., 302-854-9500. This support group is for you, whether you are a new caregiver or have been taking care of a loved one for years. We are turning the "Fearless caregiver" book into a guide for our support group. Each month a chapter will be discussed, concerns shared and support given.

    Customers help Feed the Hungry Customers of Goodwill stores throughout Delaware and Delaware County showed their generosity by contributing more than $9,500 to feed the hungry during Goodwill's Spring "Can-Do" drive during May. Customers in all 14 stores were asked to donate a dollar with each purchase, earning them a heartfelt thank you, and their name on a paper "can" - displayed in a prominent spot in the store. Along with dollars, many customers also donated non-perishable food items including pasta, canned goods, dried milk, and more to the Goodwill Food Closet. "We've really been hit hard with requests for food this year," said Regina Jones, director of Career Development Services. "We are so grateful to our customers for responding to our call. Because of their generosity, families who are really hurting will rest a little easier knowing they won't go hungry." For 87 years, the mission of Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County, Inc. has been to improve the quality of life for individuals with barriers to employment through vocational services and work opportunities. Last year alone, Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County provided more than 4,600 services to individuals throughout the region. For information, contact Christina Daniels, Director of Marketing today at or 302-379-6474.

    Safe sitter classes offered Safe Sitter classes for girls and boys ages 11 to 13 will be offered at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. The 2-day course will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday, June 24 and Thursday, June 26. The Safe Sitter program is a medically-accurate instructional series that teaches kids how to handle emergencies when caring for younger children. The cost is $50. Participants are to bring a bag lunch. To register your son or daughter or your child's babysitter, call 629-6611 ext. 2540. The goal of Safe Sitter is to reduce the number of accidental and preventable deaths among children being cared for by babysitters. Thousands of young adolescents across the country have been trained by Safe Sitter to handle life-threatening emergencies. For more information, contact Nanticoke Memorial Hospital at 629-6611 ext. 2540.