A study done in part by the University of Alberta shows that children treated with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) have lower vaccination rates than the general population, exposing them to added risk from preventable illnesses such as mumps and measles.
A review of 482 pediatric charts at a teaching clinic in a naturopathic college showed that 35 per cent of the children presenting to the clinic for ailments such as skin disorders, stomach problems or psychiatric concerns, were already using CAM therapies (including vitamins, herbal remedies, probiotics and homeopathic remedies). As well, 8.9 per cent of the children were not vaccinated for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella. This was associated with younger age, greater use of CAM products and with parents unsure about the safety of vaccines.
Results of the study, which was conducted with the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, are published in the March, 2005 issue of Pediatrics.
"Parents must be encouraged to tell their physician about any alternative treatment, and health-care providers need to ask about CAM use in taking the medical history of a child," said Dr. Sunita Vohra, professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, and one of the study's co-authors.
Physicians may not realize what a growing phenomenon CAM has become over the past few years. Nor do parents necessarily understand the importance of sharing information about their child's alternative therapy, said Dr. Vohra, who is also director of the CARE program (Complementary and Alternative Research and Education) at the Stollery Children's Hospital.
"There is an assumption that 'natural equals safe', and if it's safe, why should I tell the doctor about it," Dr. Vohra said. "But anything that can have an effect, can have a side effect. Parents need to treat CAM products and therapies with appropriate caution."
It is especially important, Dr. Vohra said, that physicians ask parents about concerns they may have with vaccinations for children, in order to deal with misconceptions. The study showed that 27 per cent of parents whose children had been vaccinated blamed that for adverse events with their children. In one case, a parent blamed the measles vaccination for autism that was later diagnosed in a child.