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Dr. Michael Gardam in a lab at UHN in Toronto, August 29, 2007. (Ryan Carter/Ryan Carter)
Dr. Michael Gardam in a lab at UHN in Toronto, August 29, 2007. (Ryan Carter/Ryan Carter)

Discussion

H1N1 myth busters Add to ...

A: The preservative in the vaccine is thimerosol. This is another one of those molecules that people get worried about, because it contains mercury. The amount of mercury in a typical vaccine is the same as in less than in a can of tuna. Thimerosol has NEVER been credibly linked to any health problems, including autism, this is despite researchers trying very very hard to find a link.

Q: Is the nasal spray safer for children and is it available in Ontario?

A: The nasal spray is not available in Canada.

Q: Should I be concerned about GBS? Also why can children under 6 months not get the vaccine for H1N1?

A: Six month olds aren't vaccinated because it doesn't work, their immune system is too young to respond to the vaccine. That is why we recommend those around them get vaccinated.

GBS (Guillan Barre syndrome) was associated with the swine flu vaccine in 1976 and never since. An association does not mean that it was caused by the vaccine, only that they were associated (like saying that umbrellas are associated with rain, doesn't mean they cause rain). The association that year was a possible increase of 1 case per 100 000 people vaccinated. Please note:

  1. that is pretty small;
  2. the risk of getting GBS from having natural flu infection is greater than that;
  3. the risk of serious complications from the flu is much greater than that; and
  4. Most cases of GBS are actually caused by infections including food poisoning. So GBS, like the adjuvant and thimerosol, are red herrings.

Q: There is a lot of criticism that the media is scare-mongering and confusing the public about H1N1. As a senior public health offiicial what do you think about what you read in the paper and see on TV. Is it confusing?

A: In general, I don't think there has been scare-mongering. Most of the coverage I have seen has been just fine. I think the biggest problem we have all faced is that flu is very very confusing, shows up in different ways and different places, and we are always looking for more information to better understand what might happen. This uncertainty means that you will see some variation in reports and that can be confusing.

Q: My wife is pregnant, and we're confused about the H1N1 vaccine. Would you recommend she get the vaccine available in Toronto next week, or should she wait for the adjuvant-free version? (We were surprised when her midwife suggested she go ahead and get the version available next week.) Also, which one should our two-year-old son get?

A: I understand your confusion Re: which vaccine for your wife. The current recommendation is that if she is less than 20 weeks and otherwise healthy, she can probably wait if she wants to get the non-adjuvanted vaccine - this is because the first trimester of pregnancy is not at increased risk of severe disease - not because of safety concerns with the adjuvanted vaccine.

If she is more than 20 weeks or less than 20 weeks with underlying medical problems I think it makes the most sense to get the adjuvanted vaccine now so that she is protected as soon as possible as the country is just heading into its fall wave of flu right now.

Q: I would really like to know about masks -- why aren't Canadians wearing them on a daily basis in public?

A: Katie, surprisingly we have no data on how well masks work when worn by the general public. I think it makes sense if you are sick and coughing, and have to go out, that you wear a mask.....but nobody knows how much others wearing masks around you will protect them. We wear them (or respirators) in healthcare but also stress hand washing and may wear glowns, gloves and eye protection as well.

Bottom line, I have no problem with people doing that if they want, I just don't know how much it will help. I personally don't wear a mask on the subway but I definitely wash my hands a lot.

Q: With three family members who have died from three different autoimmune diseases, and many living with other autoimmune diseases, I'm concerned the adjuvant may trigger an underlying autoimmune disease. Can you comment on this?

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