Swine Flu, Seasonal Flu, and Vaccinations: Should You Worry?

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My dog will perform a variety of tricks for you if you have food in your hand; she'll sit, roll over, and do other standard pooch antics. She will also fall over and pretend to be dead if you ask her if she has swine flu. Maybe it was in poor taste to teach that one to her, but at the time -- during the height of the swine flu hysteria last year -- it seemed really funny to us.

The flu is no laughing matter, of course. Last year's H1N1 outbreak met the criteria to be classified as a pandemic, even though it ultimately turned out to be no more dangerous than the "regular" seasonal flu strains. And there was a lot of talk about H1N1 being particularly dangerous for children, even those who were healthy prior to infection. In reality, a recent study breaks down last year's flu stats and concludes:

"We found that children were disproportionately affected by 2009 H1N1 infections, but the perceived severity of symptoms and risk of serious outcomes (pneumonia or hospital admissions) were not increased in children relative to seasonal influenza A viruses[.]"

A young boy receives an H1N1 Flu vaccine shot from a nurse at Carlin Springs Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia on January 7, 2010. The virus is currently hitting hardest in Virginia, but the vaccine has now become widely available. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom

Now that everyone is back to school, thoughts seem to be turning to cooler weather... and flu vaccines. Last year there were two vaccines; the "regular" flu shot, and then the H1N1 shot, of which there was a chronic shortage during flu season. This year, the standard trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine covers H1N1, so only the one shot is recommended. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over the age of 6 months be vaccinated this year. This represents a change to the prior guidelines, wherein only "at-risk" children were recommended for vaccination.

I happen to believe in vaccinations, and I'm a big believer in the flu shot. I like to tell the story this way: We never got flu shots until the year when the entire family was felled by flu, one by one. It took a full month to run through our home, by which time three of the four of us had experienced secondary infections. (And yes, as the mom, I was the last to get sick, which meant I cared for sick kids for weeks before falling ill and needing to care for well kids while I could barely get out of bed. Ah, motherhood!) After that, we all got flu shots every year, but it was tricky -- my son and I qualified under the guidelines because we have asthma, but we often had to do a bit of campaigning to get a shot for my daughter/husband (they live with high-risk patients, though they aren't ones, themselves). My kids haven't had the flu since. I've had it only once more in the intervening eight or so years, though my doctor cheerfully reminded me that sometimes that happens.

And last year, we never did get the H1N1 shot. It wasn't available, so we just got the regular shot and crossed our fingers. Luckily, we didn't have much of an outbreak around here, and we didn't get sick.

After last year's panic and propaganda about how we should all be stockpiling Tamiflu and preparing for an epidemic of Plague proportions, I have a hard time getting too worked up about it all. Every year there's flu. Every year we get flu shots. I'm glad that this year there's only one shot, and it sounds like they're not anticipating a shortage. Getting vaccinated greatly reduces your chances of infection; that seems like a no-brainer to me.

Other Thoughts on This Year's Flu Vaccination

  • Sharon at Baby Boomer Advisory Club thinks this year's vaccine is dangerous, and says she won't take it herself nor give it to anyone she loves.
  • My Life as an Asthma Mom says they'll line up to get their shots (and go out for ice cream after).
  • Strollerderby's Paula Bernstein says the good news is that there should be plenty of vaccine available, and all kids will be able to get it. The bad news, she says, is that this year's H3N2 flu strain is anticipated to be very dangerous (though it's covered in the trivalent vaccine).
  • Dr. Claire McCarthy tackles common flu vaccination myths on the Children's Hospital Boston's Thrive blog, concluding that she hopes everyone will get their facts straight so that they can make informed decisions on whether or not to vaccinate.

What about you? Will you get a flu shot? Will you vaccinate your kids this year? Why or why not?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir is a charter member of the hand-washing police, and reminds you to stop touching your face, too. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and posts all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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