Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More misinformation on the internet

GA few months ago, a listener of Pediacast (a wonderful podcast on pediatrics) asked a question about Gardasil, the new HPV vaccine. Gardisil prevents cervical cancer, and in my mind, from a public health perspective, should be a no-brainer. Who doesn't want to prevent cancer? This is one of the truly easiest cancers to prevent! A young woman gets 3 shots, and she is prevented from cervical cancer. Why do you think women get pap smears? To detect cervical cancer!

So back to my story... So the listener said that she'd heard about some negative side-effects to the vaccine, and did Dr. Mike know anything about this? Dr. Mike said he hadn't heard anything like this, and that he was providing Gardasil to his patients. But my interested was piqued.

So I looked on the internet (back to Google) under Gardasil and side-effects, and low and behold -- I shouldn't be surprised by now -- tons of misleading information about Gardasil and a whole variety of side effects! Sound familiar?

If you look closely at the sites, you will find pro-life (anit-abortion) sites with misleading information about Gardasil; sites by lawyers who claim to have documentation from individual women about side effects; and so on. Ad nauseum.

I took a look at the medical literature, and this is what I found. Gardasil was tested on 12,000 women, half who received it, and half who received an injection with a placebo. Of those women, .7% (less than 1%) of the women who received the Gardasil injection had a serious side effect, and .9 (less than 1%) of the women who received the placebo injection had a serious side effect.

That means, first of all, that less than 1% of 6000 women (that's less than 60 women) who received Gardasil had a serious side effect. It also means that less than 60 women who received the placebo injection had a serious side effect. That means that statistically, women who received the Gardasil injection were no more likely to have a serious side effect than women who received the placebo injection. (As a matter of fact, more women receiving the placebo injection had serious side effects!) This data reassures me that Gardasil is in fact safe.

I'm starting to feel angry at Google. I'm sure they don't have a way (or a desire) to check every site that they post, but the amount of inaccurate health information they are showing is starting to alarm me. I wonder if there is anything I can do about this.

1 comment:

BipolarLawyerCook said...

I think you've done what you can, which is to put competing information out there. The google algorithm is qualitatively neutral-- the content of the site, the frequency of the visits, and the manner in which the content syntax matches the phrase you're googling are what drive results. Putting alternate information out there in a well written, repetitive form should drive some search results.