MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

risk

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Here is an open letter published yesterday, initiated by SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE and signed by many UK scientists and other experts. If you agree with it, you can still add your name to the signatories (see below):

 

 

Dear Mr Johnson

We urge you to start publishing the government’s evolving plans for coronavirus testing, and the evidence they are based on.

Testing is key to understanding the risks and to how people can get back to work and normal life. It is what major decisions will be based on, but there are also limits to what it can tell us.

People are frustrated and confused about the scientific and logistical challenges of testing and what the government is doing about it. The internet and media are awash with rumours and the public are valiantly trying to work their way through fragments of information. People in senior positions in healthcare, in government departments, in research and in the related industries are struggling to see whether their input is needed and how to give it.

Why is testing delayed? Is there a shortage of tests? Is there a shortage of chemicals? Do they only work 30% of the time? Will there be tests to see whether someone’s had the virus? Can people test themselves or does it have to be done by a clinic? These are just a handful of the many questions being asked. Scientists and government representatives are trying to answer them but it’s a losing battle with volume and reach.

The UK government’s response to this epidemic started by levelling with people in a clear way about the emerging evidence and transparency on the government’s evolving thinking about that evidence. Of course, continuing to tell people what is happening has become complex and challenging. But that won’t be brought under control by limiting communication to behavioural instructions or by your efforts to clamp down on misinformation. The government cannot clamp down on misinformation without substituting information in its place. Would the government please maintain its commitment to evidence transparency and put its evolving plans and evidence on testing on an open site where the public, experts and government agencies can follow them and to which those who are trying to address confusion can direct people.

Yours faithfully

Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science

Carl Heneghan, director, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Justine Roberts, CEO, Mumsnet

Emma Friedmann, campaign director, FACSaware

Professor Sarah Harper, The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford

Mairead MacKenzie, Independent Cancer Patient Voices

Rose Woodward, Founder, Patient & Advocate, Kidney Cancer Support Network

Dr Bu’Hussain Hayee PhD FRCP AGAF, Clinical Lead for Gastroenterology

I.Chisholm-Bunting, School of Nursing and Allied Health

Rachael Jolley, editor in chief, Index on censorship

Caroline Fiennes, director, Giving Evidence

Dr Ritchie Head, director, Ceratium

Tommy Parker, KiActiv

Professor Annette Dolphin FRS, FMedSci, President of British Neuroscience Association

Dr James May, Vice Chair, Healthwatch and GP

Peter Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

A. P. Dawid, FRS Emeritus Professor of Statistics, University of Cambridge

Stafford Lightman FMedSci FRS, Professor of Medicine, University of Bristol

Dr Christie Peacock CBE PhD FRAgS FRSB Hon DSc, Founder and Chairman, Sidai Africa (Kenya) Ltd

Caroline Richmond, Medical journalist

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky FAcSS, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

Hugh Pennington CBE, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen

Prof. Wendy Bickmore FRS, FRSE, FMedSci, Director: MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh

Benjamin Schuster-Böckler, PhD, Research Group Leader, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Mail columnist and NHS Doctor

Diana Kornbrot, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Psychology, University of Hertfordshire

Professor Patrick Eyers, Chair in Cell Signalling, University of Liverpool

Lelia Duley, Emeritus Professor, University of Nottingham

Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor University of Exeter

Ianis Matsoukas, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bolton

Dr Lorna Gibson, Radiology Registrar, New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Sylvia Schröder, Senior Research Fellow, UCL

Dr Emma Dennett, St George’s University of London.

Ellie Wood, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Sophie Faulkner, clinical doctoral research fellow / occupational therapist

Dr Maya Hanspal, research assistant, UK Discovery Lab

Dr John Baird, University of Aberdeen

Martin Stamp, managing director, Ionic Information

Saša Jankovic, Journalist

Kate Ravilious, Freelance Science Writer

Charise Johnson, policy advisor

Dr Sophie Millar, University of Nottingham

Bissera Ivanvoa, Research Assistant in Linguistics, The University of Leeds

Baroness Jolly, House of Lords

Dr. Simon Keeling MSc, PhD, RMet, FRMetS, The weather centre

Laurie van Someren, Aleph One Ltd

Prof Chris Kirk, former Hon. Sec. Royal Society of Biology.

Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Wilber Sabiiti,Senior Research fellow in Medicine, University of St Andrews

Prof. Bob Brecher, Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, University of Brighton

Dr Sabina Michnowicz, UCL Hazard Centre

David Orme, Research Assistant, Cortex Lab

Rebecca Dewey PhD, Research Fellow in Neuroimaging

Dr Ricky Nathvani, Imperial College London.

Rita F. de Oliveira, Senior lecturer Sport and Exercise Science, London South Bank University

Prof Christopher C French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London

Kirstie Tew, Lead Scientist, KiActiv®

Dr Ben Martynoga, Freelance writer

Nigel Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

Dr Mimi Tanimoto – Science Communications Consultant

Till Bruckner, TranspariMED

Lesley-Anne Pearson, The University of Dundee

Sue O’Connell, retired consultant microbiologist, Health Protection Agency

Hao Ni, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, UCL, The Turing Fellow, the Alan Turing Institute

Dr Simon Underdown, FSA, FRSB, Director – Centre for Environment and Society

Matthew A Jay, PhD Student in Legal Epidemiology, University College London

Michael Butcher, Chairman, dataLearning Ltd

Professor Tom Crick, Swansea University

Dr J K Aronson, Consultant Physician and Clinical Pharmacologist, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Dr Thomas O’Mahoney, Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Ianis G. Matsoukas PhD (Biomedical Sciences), University of Bolton

Emeritus Professor Nigel Brown, Blackah-Brown Consulting

Danae Dodge, Ask for Evidence Ambassador

Ieuan Hughes, Department of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Mandy Payne, Freelance Medical Editor

Lyssa Gold, University of St Andrews

Please email hello@senseaboutscience.org with your name and description if you wish to add yourself to the letter.

Many hundreds of plants worldwide have a place in folk medicine as treatments for microbial infections and antimicrobial activity of extracts in vitro may be readily assessed in microbiology laboratories. Many so tested are reported to show inhibitory effects against a range of organisms. For less than responsible entrepreneurs, this is often enough reason to promote them as therapeutic options.

But laboratory testing can at best be only a very crude, though relatively inexpensive and rapid screen, while in vivo testing is very costly and time consuming. On this background, we conducted a review in 2003 to examine the range of plants or herbs that have been tested for antiviral properties in laboratories, animals and humans. Here is its abstract:

Background and aims: Many antiviral compounds presently in clinical use have a narrow spectrum of activity, limited therapeutic usefulness and variable toxicity. There is also an emerging problem of resistant viral strains. This study was undertaken to examine the published literature on herbs and plants with antiviral activity, their laboratory evaluation in vitro and in vivo, and evidence of human clinical efficacy.

Methods: Independent literature searches were performed on MEDLINE, EMBASE, CISCOM, AMED and Cochrane Library for information on plants and herbs with antiviral activity. There was no restriction on the language of publication. Data from clinical trials of single herb preparations used to treat uncomplicated viral infections were extracted in a standardized, predefined manner.

Results: Many hundreds of herbal preparations with antiviral activity were identified and the results of one search presented as an example. Yet extracts from only 11 species met the inclusion criteria of this review and have been tested in clinical trials. They have been used in a total of 33 randomised, and a further eight non-randomised, clinical trials. Fourteen of these trials described the use of Phyllanthus spp. for treatment of hepatitis B, seven reporting positive and seven reporting negative results. The other 10 herbal medicines had each been tested in between one and nine clinical trials. Only four of these 26 trials reported no benefit from the herbal product.

Conclusions: Though most of the clinical trials located reported some benefits from use of antiviral herbal medicines, negative trials may not be published at all. There remains a need for larger, stringently designed, randomised clinical trials to provide conclusive evidence of their efficacy.

One of the herbal remedies that seemed to show some promise specifically for upper respiratory infections was Andrographis paniculata. This evidence prompted us in 2004 to conduct a systematic review focused on this herb specifically. Here is its abstract:

Acute respiratory infections represent a significant cause of over-prescription of antibiotics and are one of the major reasons for absence from work. The leaves of Andrographis paniculata (Burm. f.) Wall ex Nees (Acanthaceae) are used as a medicinal herb in the treatment of infectious diseases. Systematic literature searches were conducted in six computerised databases and the reference lists of all papers located were checked for further relevant publications. Information was also requested from manufacturers, the spontaneous reporting schemes of the World Health Organisation and national drug safety bodies. No language restrictions were imposed. Seven double-blind, controlled trials (n = 896) met the inclusion criteria for evaluation of efficacy. All trials scored at least three, out of a maximum of five, for methodological quality on the Jadad scale. Collectively, the data suggest that A. paniculata is superior to placebo in alleviating the subjective symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection. There is also preliminary evidence of a preventative effect. Adverse events reported following administration of A. paniculata were generally mild and infrequent. There were few spontaneous reports of adverse events. A. paniculata may be a safe and efficacious treatment for the relief of symptoms of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection; more research is warranted.

Before you now rush to buy a dietary supplement of A. paniculata, let me stress this in no uncertain terms: the collective evidence is at best suggestive, but it is not compelling. Importantly, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no sound evidence that any herbal remedy is effective in preventing or treating Covid-19 infections.

I truly wished to be able to report more encouraging news, but the truth is the truth, even (I would argue, particularly) in desperate times.

What Quacks Don’t Tell You is that ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You‘ and ‘Get Well‘ magazines misinform the public in a scandalously dangerous fashion. If one ever needed evidence for this statement, it is provided by their latest action, explained on their website:

Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard, editors of What Doctors Don’t Tell You and Get Well magazines, are pleased to announce a series of four FREE weekly webinars, via Zoom, starting Thursday, April 2 designed to maximize your health and wellness in every way during these challenging times.

In these free hour-long sessions, Lynne and Bryan will interview a number of pioneering doctors and specialists, who will give you detailed advice about natural substances that kill viruses, the best supplements, foods and exercises to boost your immune system, and the best techniques to stay calm and centered during these challenging times.

Sign up to be sent the link for the live webinar where you can have the ability to ask your questions to these pioneers, get access to the recording of the webinars and receive a handout of helpful relevant tips to that webinar.

Part 1: Supercharging Yourself With Natural Virus Killers
Thursday, April 2, 2020
9 am PDST/12pm EDST/5 pm BST/6 pm CSTThis webinar will feature the best substances and supplements proven to prevent the spread of viruses. Joining Lynne and Bryan are noted pioneer Dr. Damien Downing, president of the Society for Environmental Medicine, who was part of a team of orthomolecular doctors who devised a special supplement preventative against the coronavirus; Dr. Sarah Myhill, a British integrative doctor noted expert on vitamin C and other natural virus killers; and Dr. Robert Verkerk PhD, the founder and president of the Alliance for Natural Health and an expert on food and health.
This hardly need a comment. Perhaps just this: there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to prevent the spread of the corona virus. Claiming otherwise might be commercially motivated or it might stem from a deep delusion. In any case, it risks the life of those consumers who believe in such bogus claims and, wrongly feel they are protected, and thus neglect effective measures of protection.

[If you do not like black humour or sarcasm, please do NOT read this post!!!]

Donald Trump just announced that, at Easter, he wants to see churches packed, his way of saying the lock-down is over because it is damaging the economy. Many others have put forward similar arguments and have pointed out that caring for the vulnerable, sick, old, etc. creates an economic burden that might eventually kill more people than it saves (see for instance ‘Economic crash could cost more lives than coronavirus, study warns‘).

Many people have also argued that homeopathy is unjustly vilified because it is truly a wholesome and safe medicine that should be used routinely. The notion here is that, alright, the evidence is not brilliant, but 200 years of experience and millions of fans cannot be ignored.

I have been wondering whether these two lines of thinking could not be profitably combined. Here is my suggestion based on the following two axioms.

  1. The economy is important for all our well-being.
  2. Homeopaths have a point in that the value of experience must not be ignored.

What follows is surprisingly simple: in view of the over-riding importance of the economy, let’s prioritise it over health. As it would look bad to deny those poor corona victims all forms of healthcare, let’s treat them homeopathically. This would make lots of people happy:

  • those who think the economy must take precedent,
  • those who fear the huge costs of saving corona patients (homeopathy is very cheap),
  • those who argued for decades that we never gave homeopathy a fighting chance to show its worth.

There is a downside, of course. There would be a most lamentable mortality rate. But, to paraphrase Dominic Cummings, if a few oldies have to snuff it, so be it!

Once we get used to this innovative approach – I suggest we call it integrative medicine – we might even consider adopting it for other critical situations. When we realise, for instance, that the pension pots are empty, we could officially declare that homeopathy is the ideal medicine for anybody over 60.

What do you think?

 

Some homeopaths are so deluded that I am tempted to characterise them as criminally stupid. This does, in my view, apply to those homeopaths who continue to advise their patients to treat or prevent coronavirus infections homeopathically. This website is only one example of many:

So what homeopathic remedy should I take for Coronavirus?

If you are living in an area which is not yet affected by Coronavirus, you should not be taking any remedy for now.

Based on the analysis above, I believe Bryonia alba 6CH or 30CH, can serve as a prophylactic.

It can be given (only to affected population) once a day, till days become warmer and the epidemic subsides (hopefully). People are mobile in endemic or epidemic areas should take the medicine daily. People who are in self quarantine and not having social contact, can take it for 3-5 days and then take it if and when they venture out. If a patient has flu-like symptoms, you can take the same remedy in 6 or 30 potency, 6 hourly. If the vitality is very low, more freuent repetition may be required. Also consider Camphora in such a case.

If a patient develops tightness in chest and shortness of breath, Lycopodium 30CH is likely to help.

The remedy suggestions are based on the available data. Homeopathy needs much deeper individualization, and clinical experience of treating Coronavirus Covid-19 patients with homeopathy, may bring up a different group of remedies.

Some recent data from Iran shows that many patients are showing sudden collapse. Dr. Rajan Sakaran as well as Dr. Sunirmal Sarkar have suggested that Camphora be considered as a medicine and prophylactic there. So if Covid-19 patients in your country are showing signs of sudden collapse with respiratory distress, vertigo and cold sweat, you may consider Camphora.

I do not recommend self-medication. You can show this article to your homeopath for a better clinical judgment that he/she will make for you.

If you suspect yourself to have Corona virus infection, please consult the concerned medical authorities in your country immediately.

If you have a flu-like illness and wish to take homeopathic treatment, please consult a qualified homeopathy doctor in person.

As I already stated: there are many websites with similarly barmy information. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself and run a quick google search.

Some people will say that this is not so bad – if it does not help, it cannot harm!

I would disagree.

Harm is being done by these charlatans in several ways. Firstly, the truth is a most valuable asset, and we must not allow homeopaths to vandalise it. Secondly, if patients believe in these bogus claims, they might take effective preventative measures less seriously and thus increase the danger for us all. Thirdly, anyone following the idiotic advice of homeopaths would have to forge out money for their service, and that money could be put to better use elsewhere.

My conclusion is that these homeopaths try to profit from the panic of vulnerable people. They are therefore crooks of the worst kind.

The ‘Corona-Virus Quackery Club’ (CVQC) is enjoying a fast-growing membership. As mentioned in previous posts, it consists of:

homeopaths,

colloidal silver crooks,

TCM practitioners,

orthomolecular quacks,

Unani-salesmen.

Chiropractors have been keen to join since weeks. They have a long tradition of claiming that their ‘adjustments’ boost the immune system, and therefore it was to be expected that they also jump on the corona-bandwagon.

Some chiropractors seem to believe that the corona-virus pandemic is a fine business opportunity or, as one put it, the perfect opportunity to have a heart to heart with patients about their immune and nervous systems! Remember, if germs automatically caused disease, the human race wouldn’t be around to debate the issue. Many forget that Louis Pasteur, the father of the germ theory recanted his belief. On his deathbed he observed, “It’s the soil, not the seed.” In other words, without the right environment, germs can do little harm.

Chiropractors and other health care workers are at greater risk due to patient or client interactions and are encouraged to take extra precautions when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and skin or close contact.

“Every chiropractic practice has been touched by coronavirus [fears],” says Bill Esteb, DC, who has created and is circulating a coronavirus and chiropractic guide on how to avoid contracting the virus.

“We wanted to create a tool that chiropractors could use as a conversation springboard. Chiropractors need to remind their patients that germs don’t automatically cause disease. And that ‘catching’ the coronavirus, or anything else, requires a hospitable environment.”

The only way to catch anything, says Esteb, is to become a hospitable host. Flipping the message, Esteb in his coronavirus and chiropractic guide says here is “How to Catch the Coronavirus”:

  • Eat a Poor Diet — Make sure your body lacks the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and micronutrients needed to keep itself in good repair.
  • Avoid Adequate Rest — Stay up late and use sugar, tobacco, coffee and energy drinks as needed.
  • Become Dehydrated — Reduce the effectiveness of your natural defense mechanisms by shunning adequate water.
  • Stop Exercising — Reduce the efficiency of your lymphatic system, which requires movement to circulate this important germ-fighting fluid.
  • Think Negative Thoughts — Worry that you’ll be a victim. Closely monitor news reports about outbreaks, fearing the advancing pandemic.
  • Rarely Wash Your Hands — Use your dirty hands and fingers to rub your eyes, pick your nose or wipe your lips.
  • Skip Your Chiropractic Adjustments — Handicap your nervous system, the master system that controls your entire body. Wait until symptoms are clearly present.

“Following these suggestions is the way to become a suitable host for any number of germs or microbes,” Esteb says. “The tongue-in-check approach keeps the subject light. It stimulates more instructive patient conversations. It helps reduce appointment cancellations.

“Most people have an inappropriate fear of germs. And while this poster and patient handout won’t eliminate it, use it to explore the value of ongoing chiropractic care as a preventive strategy.”

——–

The Internet is full with messages of this type. Here is just one example: The best defense for the Corona Virus is to be healthy when you are exposed to the virus. Get adjusted to boost your immune system. Check out this video blog on what you can do to be healthy and prepare your body to fight off the corona virus.

——–

Perhaps the worst excesses can be found on Twitter:

James Langford 
@JamesLangford15·

Did you know that a properly aligned body supports and activates our immune system. During this time of concern from the corona virus, making sure your body is healthy is the best way to combat this illness. #health #immunesystem
Oxford Chiropractic
@OxfordChiropra1·

Scared of the corona virus? Practice a little preventative care like mama always used to tell you and get your spine adjusted!!! It’s boosts your immune by 200%!!!!! Why aren’t we talking… instagram.com/p/B9pjMqdATmBn
——–
So, considering this concerted effort, I am happy to announce that, from today, my friends the chiros are official members of the CVQC.
CONGRATULATIONS GUYS!
PS
Whether Boris Johnson will be allowed in, depends on future announcements; so far, his chances are not bad.

Boris Johnson said we should take the coronavirus ‘on the chin’ and count on ‘herd-immunity’. This, he claimed, is what his scientific advisers recommended.

I find this very hard to believe and have many doubts and questions.

To start with, I doubt that this is what Johnson’s scientific advisers recommend – it is a solution that SOME of his scientific advisers recommend. And it is a solution that seems easy to follow. It is, however, by no means the only strategy for tacking the pandemic; it is just one of several options.

The fact that all other countries have opted for other solutions, suggests to me that it is an unusual path to go down to. The modellers who obviously like it had to make a number of assumptions; that’s what modellers always have to do and rarely tell us about. But what if not all of these assumptions are correct?

The herd-immunity strategy counts on the fact that, once a certain percentage of the population has taken the infection ‘on the chin’, it is immune and therefore the transmission of the virus within such a population will be dramatically reduced or even zero. The percentage of the population needed for that to happen depends on how contagious the virus is. For the measles virus, herd immunity requires 90% of the population to be immune. For the coronavirus, the figure is said to be 60 – 70%. Is that an assumption or a fact? If it is a current fact, would the figure change, if the virus mutates? Could it be that a mutated virus can re-infect formerly immune people?

But let’s postulate that the herd-immunity assumption is both correct and stable. Johnson’s herd-immunity strategy would thus require that about 40 million Brits get infected with the virus to generate the required herd-immunity. Assuming a mortality rate of 1 – 2%, this means that Johnson is cheerfully accepting 400 000 – 800 000 fatalities.

But, as I said, this scenario is based on wild assumptions. It applies only if the virus does not mutate. And it only applies, if we do not run out of intensive care (IC) beds. However, running out seems possible, perhaps even likely, considering that we have only about half of the French and just one third of the German IC capacity. Sod’s law has it that both might happen. In this case, we might easily have far in excess of 800 000 fatalities. How should we take that ‘on the chin’, Mr Johnson?

Sadly, this is not all; I have further doubts about our PM’s ideas.

The present strategy regarding diagnosis of coronavirus cases is to self-isolate once suspicious symptoms start. Even if someone is seriously ill (with high fever etc.), they are told to stay at home and sit it out. This means we will never know whether these patients had or had not suffered from a coronavirus infection. How then can we ever be sure that the 60% target of infection has been reached? And if we are uncertain about it, how can we be sure that herd-immunity will work in the way the modellers predicted?

Moreover, we now know that people who caught the virus are infective BEFORE they develop symptoms. If that is so, the strategy of self-isolation will be far less effective than predicted. And, given this fact, are we not much more likely to have a sharp peak of cases early on which would make us run out of IC capacity? When that happens, even the pessimistic death rates might turn out to be too optimistic.

It seems to me that Johnson’s herd-immunity strategy is risky to the point of being reckless. It also seems to me that there are very good reasons why other countries have not adopted it.

But what is the solution?

In my view, the solution cannot be to uncritically adopt the theories and assumptions of modellers. This is not a computer game; we are talking about human lives, many human lives!

I wish I new what the best solution is – but I don’t. I merely fear that ‘taking it on the chin’ is not a solution at all. In any case, a wise move for Johnson and his team might be to consider that foreigners might be at least as clever as they are. Subsequently they could carefully study the actions of those countries which managed to bring down their death-rates despite being attacked by the coronavirus.

During my almost 30 years of research into so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), I have published many papers which must have been severe disappointments to those who advocate SCAM or earn their living through it. Many SCAM proponents thus reacted with open hostility. Others tried to find flaws in those articles which they found most upsetting with a view of discrediting my work. The 2012 article entitled ‘A Replication of the Study ‘Adverse Effects of Spinal Manipulation: A Systematic Review‘ by the Australian chiropractor, Peter Tuchin, seems to be an example of the latter phenomenon (used recently by Jens Behnke in an attempt to defame me).

Here is the abstract of the Tuchin paper:

Objective: To assess the significance of adverse events after spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) by replicating and critically reviewing a paper commonly cited when reviewing adverse events of SMT as reported by Ernst (J Roy Soc Med 100:330-338, 2007).

Method: Replication of a 2007 Ernst paper to compare the details recorded in this paper to the original source material. Specific items that were assessed included the time lapse between treatment and the adverse event, and the recording of other significant risk factors such as diabetes, hyperhomocysteinemia, use of oral contraceptive pill, any history of hypertension, atherosclerosis and migraine.

Results: The review of the 32 papers discussed by Ernst found numerous errors or inconsistencies from the original case reports and case series. These errors included alteration of the age or sex of the patient, and omission or misrepresentation of the long term response of the patient to the adverse event. Other errors included incorrectly assigning spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) as chiropractic treatment when it had been reported in the original paper as delivered by a non-chiropractic provider (e.g. Physician).The original case reports often omitted to record the time lapse between treatment and the adverse event, and other significant clinical or risk factors. The country of origin of the original paper was also overlooked, which is significant as chiropractic is not legislated in many countries. In 21 of the cases reported by Ernst to be chiropractic treatment, 11 were from countries where chiropractic is not legislated.

Conclusion: The number of errors or omissions in the 2007 Ernst paper, reduce the validity of the study and the reported conclusions. The omissions of potential risk factors and the timeline between the adverse event and SMT could be significant confounding factors. Greater care is also needed to distinguish between chiropractors and other health practitioners when reviewing the application of SMT and related adverse effects.

The author of this ‘replication study’ claims to have identified several errors in my 2007 review of adverse effects of spinal manipulation. Here is the abstract of my article:

Objective: To identify adverse effects of spinal manipulation.

Design: Systematic review of papers published since 2001.

Setting: Six electronic databases.

Main outcome measures: Reports of adverse effects published between January 2001 and June 2006. There were no restrictions according to language of publication or research design of the reports.

Results: The searches identified 32 case reports, four case series, two prospective series, three case-control studies and three surveys. In case reports or case series, more than 200 patients were suspected to have been seriously harmed. The most common serious adverse effects were due to vertebral artery dissections. The two prospective reports suggested that relatively mild adverse effects occur in 30% to 61% of all patients. The case-control studies suggested a causal relationship between spinal manipulation and the adverse effect. The survey data indicated that even serious adverse effects are rarely reported in the medical literature.

Conclusions: Spinal manipulation, particularly when performed on the upper spine, is frequently associated with mild to moderate adverse effects. It can also result in serious complications such as vertebral artery dissection followed by stroke. Currently, the incidence of such events is not known. In the interest of patient safety we should reconsider our policy towards the routine use of spinal manipulation.

In my view, there are several things that are strange here:

  1. Tuchin published his paper 5 years after mine.
  2. He did not publish it in the same journal as my original, but in an obscure chiro journal that hardly any non-chiropractor would ever read.
  3. Tuchin never contacted me and never alerted me to his publication.
  4. The journal that Tuchin chose was not Medline-listed in 2012; consequently, I never got to know about the Tuchin article in a timely fashion. (Therefore, I did never respond to it.)
  5. A ‘replication study’ is a study that repeats the methodology of a previous study.
  6. Tuchin’s paper is therefore NOT a replication study. Firstly, mine was a review and not a study. Secondly, and crucially, Tuchin never repeated my methodology but used an entirely different one.

But arguably, these points are trivial. They should not distract from the fact that I might have made mistakes. So, let’s look at the substance of Tuchin’s claim, namely that I made errors or omissions in my review.

As to ‘omissions’, one could argue that a review such as mine will always have to omit some details in order to generate a concise summary. The only way to not omit any details is to re-publish all the primary papers in one large volume. Yet, this can hardly be the purpose of a systematic review.

As to the ‘errors’, it seems that the ages and sex of three patients were wrong (I have not checked this against the primary publications but, for the moment, I believe Tuchin). This is, of course, lamentable and – even though I have no idea whether the errors happened at the data extraction phase, during the typing, the revising, or the publishing of the paper – it is entirely my responsibility. I also seem to have mistaken a non-chiropractor for a chiropractor. This too is regrettable but, as the review was about spinal manipulation and not about chiropractic, the error is perhaps not so grave.

Be that as it may, these errors are unquestionably not good, and I can only apologise for them. If Tuchin had dealt with them in the usual way – by publishing in a timely fashion a ‘letter to the editor’ of the JRSM – I could have easily corrected them for everyone to see.

But I think there is a more important point to be made here:

Tuchin concludes his paper stating that it is unwise to make conclusions regarding causality from any case study or multiple case studies. The number of errors or omissions in the 2007 Ernst paper significantly limit any reported conclusions. I believe that both sentences are unjustified. The safety of any intervention in routine use has to be examined on the basis of published case studies. This is particularly true for chiropractic where no post-marketing surveillance similar to that for drugs exists.

The conclusions based on such evidence can, of course, never be firm, but they provide valuable signals that can prompt more rigorous investigations in the interest of patient safety. In view of such considerations, my own conclusions in my 2007 paper were, I think, correct and are NOT invalidated by my relatively trivial mistakes: spinal manipulation, particularly when performed on the upper spine, has repeatedly been associated with serious adverse events. Currently the incidence of such events is unknown. Adherence to informed consent, which currently seems less than rigorous, should therefore be mandatory to all therapists using this treatment. Considering that spinal manipulation is used mostly for self-limiting conditions and that its effectiveness is not well established, we should adopt a cautious attitude towards using it in routine health care. 

And my conclusions in the abstract have now, I believe, become established wisdom. They are thus even less in jeopardy through my calamitous lapsus or Tuchin’s ‘replication study’: Spinal manipulation, particularly when performed on the upper spine, is frequently associated with mild to moderate adverse effects. It can also result in serious complications such as vertebral artery dissection followed by stroke. Currently, the incidence of such events is not known. In the interest of patient safety we should reconsider our policy towards the routine use of spinal manipulation. 

 

 

Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) is usually a blood clot in a deep vein of a leg. It is a potentially life-threatening condition, because the clot can detach itself and end up in the lungs thus causing a pulmonary embolism which can be fatal. A DVT therefore is a medical emergency which is typically managed by immobilising the patient and putting him/her on anticoagulants.

Yet, homeopaths seem to have discovered another approach. Indian homeopaths just published a case report of a DVT in an old patient totally cured exclusively by the non-invasive method of treatment with micro doses of potentized homeopathic drugs selected on the basis of the totality of symptoms and individualization of the case. The authors concluded that, since this report is based on a single case of recovery, results of more such cases are warranted to strengthen the outcome of the present study.

The patient was advised by his doctor to have surgery which he refused. Instead, he consulted a homeopath who treated him homoeopathically. No conventional treatments were given. The patient recovered, yet his recovery is almost certainly unrelated to the homeopathics he received. Spontaneous recovery after DVT is not uncommon, and it is almost certain that it is this what the case report describes.

It is simply not plausible, nor is there evidence that homeopathy can alter the natural history of a DVT. This means that what the Indian homeopaths have described in their paper is nothing less than a case of gross negligence. Had the patient died of a pulmonary embolism due to an untreated DVT, it could have put them behind bars.

While it is, of course, most laudable that homeopaths have taken to publishing even their most serious errors, it would be more reassuring, if they developed some sort of insight into their mistakes. Instead, they seem naively confident and stupidly ignorant of the danger they pose to the public: homeopathy can play significant therapeutic roles in very serious diseases like DVT, provided the drugs are needs to be carefully selected on the basis of i) individualization of cases, ii) the totality of symptoms and personalized data, and iii) taking into consideration the pathogenicity level and proper diagnosis of the disease. Further, homeopathy may also be safely used in patients with conventional drug allergy (antibiotics) or other physical conditions preventing intake of conventional medicines.

My conclusion and recommendation: stay away from homeopaths, folks!

A team of chiropractic researchers conducted a review of the safety of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) in children under 10 years. They aimed to:

1) describe adverse events;

2) report the incidence of adverse events;

3) determine whether SMT increases the risk of adverse events compared to other interventions.

They searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Index to Chiropractic Literature from January 1, 1990 to August 1, 2019. Eligible studies were case reports/series, cohort studies and randomized controlled trials. Studies of high and acceptable methodological quality were included.

Most adverse events are mild (e.g., increased crying, soreness). One case report describes a severe adverse event (rib fracture in a 21-day-old) and another an indirect harm in a 4-month-old. The incidence of mild adverse events ranges from 0.3% (95% CI: 0.06, 1.82) to 22.22% (95% CI: 6.32, 54.74). Whether SMT increases the risk of adverse events in children is unknown.

The authors concluded that the risk of moderate and severe adverse events is unknown in children treated with SMT. It is unclear whether SMT increases the risk of adverse events in children < 10 years.

Thanks to their ingenious methodology, the authors managed to miss 11 of the 13 studies included in the review by Vohra et al which reported 9 serious adverse events and 20 cases of delayed diagnosis associated with SMT. Another review reported 15 serious adverse events and 775 mild to moderate adverse events following manual therapy. As far as I can see, the authors of the new review make just one reasonable point:

We recommend the implementation of a population-based active surveillance program to measure the incidence of severe and serious adverse events following SMT treatment in this population.

In the absence of such a surveillance system, any incidence figures are not just guess-work but also a depiction of the tip of a much bigger iceberg. So, why do the authors of this review not make this point clearly and powerfully? Why does the review read mostly like an attempt to white-wash a thorny subject? Why do they not provide a breakdown of the adverse events according to profession? The answer to these questions can be found at the very end of the paper:

This study was supported by the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia to Ontario Tech University. The College of Chiropractors of British Columbia was not involved in the design, conduct or interpretation of the research that informed the research. This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs program to Pierre Côté who holds the Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation at Ontario Tech University, and from the Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation to Carol Cancelliere who holds a Research Chair in Knowledge Translation in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University.

This study was supported by the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia to Ontario Tech University. The College of Chiropractors of British Columbia was not involved in the design, conduct or interpretation of the research that informed the research. This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs program to Pierre Côté who holds the Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation at Ontario Tech University, and funding from the Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation to Carol Cancelliere who holds a Research Chair in Knowledge Translation in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University.

I have often felt that chiropractic is similar to a cult. An investigation by cult members into the dealings of a cult is not the most productive of concepts, I guess.

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