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Misfiring magic bullets.

Vaccines, once hailed as "magic bullets" against disease, sometimes fly astray. In fact, shots of two common vaccines -- DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) and rubella -- may in rare cases trigger serious health problems, according to a scientific panel assembled by the Institute of Medicine.

In reviewing existing data, the panel found a link between the pertussis component of the DPT vaccine and anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. And women who get rubella shots may develop cripping arthritis, the panel concludes in its July 3 report.

Before DPT vaccination began, 95 percent of people contracted pertussis (whooping cough) at some point in their lives. This respiratory infection remains a leading cause of infant deaths in developing countries. Rubella (German measles) usually causes only a mild fewer and skin rash, but exposure to the virus during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, including mental retardation, heart disease, deafness and diabetes.

The new report, commissioned by Congress as part of the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, examines more than 20 adverse health effects and their relationship, if any, to the two vaccines.

Evidence compiled on the pertussis vaccine "indicates a causal relation" not only with anaphylaxis but also with extended periods of inconsolable squalling in infants who have just received the injection, the panel reports. Evidence linking the vaccine with shock and with acute encephalopathy, a structural abnormality of the brain, was weaker but still "consistent with a causal relation." The panel had insufficient evidence to confirm or refute past charges that the pertussis vaccine can cause permanent neurologic damage.

Adverse reactions to DPT and rubella shots remain extremely rare, and should not scare people from getting vaccinated or having their children vaccinated, stresses pediatrician Mary L. Coady of Bryn Mawr (Pa.) Hospital, a member of the panel. She adds that a safer pertussis vaccine is undergoing clinical trials in the United States.
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Title Annotation:report on adverse effects from diptheria-pertussis-tetanus and rubella vaccines
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 20, 1991
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