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As I found myself digging my life out from yet another nor’easter here in Boston on Thursday, an endeavor that continues to offend my Southern sensibilities, I realized that I haven’t done one of these in a while. So I have compiled a list of interesting happenings from beyond the borders of science-based medicine. Sit back, relax, and don’t be afraid to ride the snake!

A successful lawsuit against bogus marketing claims? Well, sort of. Maybe?

We haven’t written much about kinesio taping on SBM. This is the stretchy tape, often quite colorful and applied in a variety of eye catching designs, that first achieved widespread recognition during the 2008 Olympics. Steve mentioned it in a post on Olympic Pseudoscience back in 2012 when it was first seen adorning numerous high profile athletes, and I gave it some attention in 2016 when pointing out the absurdity of using the product on children with developmental delays and muscular disorders.

The claims made by manufacturers and promoters of the tape are highly implausible, particularly those involving increased muscle strength, improved blood flow to an injured areas, and better lymphatic drainage to reduce swelling. No evidence supports these claims. Pain reduction and injury prevention are also frequently-cited benefits that similarly lack evidence, at least none showing an effect specific to kinesio tape.

We know that using tape to stabilize an injured joint can have benefit. We also know that compression bandaging can help with controlling swelling. The proponents of kinesio taping believe that their favorite brand, and there are many, does this and much more when expertly applied in specific patterns. One company, KT Health, which manufactures and sells the popular “KT” brand kinesio tape products has been involved in a class action lawsuit for the past few years because of exaggerated health claims.

Last month it was announced that KT Health has settled the suit, agreeing to compensate thousands of customers. But, as is often the case, they have admitted no wrongdoing and are simply going to put a disclaimer on their products stating that they don’t work for all injuries. They will continue to charge significantly more than the cost of equally effective plain compression tape.

Despite this l was easily able to find all manner of bogus claims being made by this company that won’t be affected by the lawsuit. Take their KT Recovery Patch+, for example. According to the manufacturer, they are a “natural, drug-free way to reduce pain and promote faster healing without medication.” The product label adds that the patches work by draining lymphatic fluid to “promote faster healing without medication.”

Again, there is no evidence that these superficial applications of stretchy tape, regardless of how colorful and exotic they appear, do anything of the sort. The most charitable interpretation of the literature on kinesio taping is that putting something on that you can feel, and perhaps reminds you to be careful, might result in minor and transient improvement in subjective reports of pain. There is no evidence of a specific benefit related to kinesio tape itself, or to any kind of expert application of it, despite what you might learn at “Kinesio University.”

So, this is a slap on the wrist, just the cost of doing business when it comes to misleading the public about health related products. But at least some good information made the rounds with the media coverage of the lawsuit. Thankfully use of any kinesio tape product is unlikely to cause anything other than financial harm. And no, the 2020 ACLS guidelines will not include the use of kinesio tape.

E-cigarettes and teenagers are not a good combination

There has been a lot of hype surrounding so-called e-cigarrettes, used for doing the vaping or whatever the kids are calling it these days. While fewer teens are smoking traditional cigarettes, the number of vaping adolescents skyrocketed over the past several years, with an increase in half a million from 2014 to 2015, when 16 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes. The most recent data from 2016 showed a drop, with only 11% of teens vaping, but that’s still a lot of kids.

There is reason to believe that vaping is a safer option than smoking analog cigarettes. If someone who smokes regularly switches to e-cigarettes, I don’t think any medical professional would say that’s simply a lateral move. But vaping is not harmless, and the better option is to do neither. When it comes to kids, the best option is of course to never start. Unfortunately, ads for e-cigarettes are commonplace and there are serious concerns about marketing with kids in mind. But no, e-cigarette manufacturers have not made a handheld gaming/vaping device…yet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics very recently highlighted two studies that shine some light on the problems with vaping. In the first study, researchers found that teenaged e-cigarette users had metabolites of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds in their urine compared to non-users, and that this was true of those using products that don’t contain nicotine. Many kids start off with these because they believe that they are safer. I’m left wondering why these companies would market a vaping product that doesn’t contain nicotine if not to entice kids.

One of the major concerns regarding youth use of e-cigarettes is that they will increase the likelihood of eventually smoking regular cigarettes. This has pretty much already been established in fact. But what about the potential benefit of vaping diverting kids who have begun to experiment with cigarettes and preventing the establishment of a more dangerous habit? In the second study highlighted by the AAP, researchers looked specifically at this population and found that no, no it doesn’t. It probably encourages it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who do not think of secondhand e-cigarette exposure as particularly risky to children. And while it probably isn’t as bad as exposure to smoke from the conventional variety, we don’t have long term studies and we don’t know how vape smoke would impact the risk of pediatric asthma, ear infections, and SIDS, to name just three of many potential examples. So it is a good idea to limit exposure.

The European measles outbreak continues apace

There is currently an extensive measles outbreak affecting 15 European countries, particularly Romania and Italy. The World Health Organization recently announced that there were over 20,000 cases in 2017, four times the number in 2016. The roughly five thousand European cases that year was a record low. So why the huge increase?

Overall the vaccination rate is still fairly high, although lower than in the United States, but there are regions where it is on the way down thanks to a persistent anti-vaccine movement and the resulting deluge of misinformation that parents are exposed to. This is likely playing the largest role, however there are also issues with access to medical care for certain groups. The WHO specifically mentioned the Roma population in Romania and throughout Europe.

As would be expected, the vast majority of 2017 European measles cases occurred in unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals. So far there have been 35 confirmed pediatric deaths from measles in Europe in 2017, but more will certainly come. At least a few more will die years later, after a period of good health, from a complication known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.

The European outbreak is occurring at a time when we should be celebrating the success of the measles vaccination program. This is a disease that every year killed children by the millions as recently as the 1980s, but 2016 marks the first year that the global death rate dropped below 100,000 thanks to a massive public health campaign. We should be using this success as inspiration to drive the nail in the coffin of this deadly disease, an affliction which could be permanently eradicated just like we did with smallpox.

Many of the involved European countries, like Italy, are common destinations for American tourists. Our immunization rates remain strong, but there are worrisome pockets primed for a major outbreak. Measles is incredibly contagious, and all it would take is one family returning from a trip abroad to cause thousands of cases if their home community immunization rates are low.

Spring is coming…eventually!

That’s it for this edition of the MMM. Unless you want to read about thousands of cheerleaders being exposed to the mumps virus at a national competition, that is. You do you. As for me, I’m heading back out to shovel more snow.

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Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician practicing at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @skepticpedi and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey. The comments expressed by Dr. Jones are his own and do not represent the views or opinions of Newton-Wellesley Hospital or its administration.