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Andre Picard (John Morstad)
Andre Picard (John Morstad)

Ask André Picard

Your H1N1 vaccine questions answered Add to ...

Q: If I get the vaccine can I still get the flu?

A: Influenza vaccines are not 100 per cent effective so, yes, it is possible. However, chances are the symptoms will be more mild. Getting the H1N1 vaccine does not mean you will not get sick this winter; there are other strains of flu and numerous other viruses and bacteria that circulate.

Q: I'm pretty sure my daughter has the flu. Can I give her cough syrup?

A: There is very little evidence that over-the-counter cough syrups, cough drops and cold and flu medicines are of any benefit. In children, these products can actually be dangerous. The best treatment for a cough is hydration, so if you are sick sip water and chicken soup.

Q: My child is complaining about achiness - can I give my child Tylenol or baby Aspirin for the pain?

A: Children under the age of 18 should never be given ASA (Aspirin and similar products) because it can cause a rare but deadly condition called Reye's syndrome. So-called baby Aspirin is not a product for children, it is a low-dose product for adults. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen) and similar products can be used to treat pain. But recent research has suggested that Tylenol can pose risks to children with asthma and allergies. In all instances, it wise to consult a pediatrician before giving medication - especially a new medication - to a child.

Q: I read that the 13-year-old child who died of H1N1 had taken fever reducers. Are they dangerous?

A: Products like Tylenol, Advil and concoctions that contain these drugs can be used to treat pain and reduce fever. The danger is not necessarily the product per se but that they can mask symptoms and create a false sense of security. Fever, in itself, is not dangerous unless a child's temperate is extremely high. However, some research suggests that artificially lowering fever can reduce the immune response, prolong illness and actually endanger children. As a result, some countries like Japan, say that fever reducers should never be used in children.

Q: What about babies?

A: Babies under the age of six months should not get the H1N1 vaccine. Some public health officials believe that children under age of three should get non-adjuvanted vaccine. But parents, siblings and caregivers of very young children should get the vaccine to minimize the risk of infecting the baby.

Q: My three-year-old daughter got the flu two weeks ago. The doctor said it was H1N1 but it was not confirmed because the region doesn't do routine testing. My husband and I did not get sick. How can this be? We took no special precautions. Now we're wondering: Should we get the vaccine or are we immune to this flu?

A: You have raised several interesting issues related to H1N1 and vaccination. First, about 90 per cent of all the flu cases in Canada today are caused H1N1. There is very little seasonal flu so far. That's why doctors assume that cases of the flu are H1N1. Testing everyone is not considered a good use of resources.

Second, there is a common assumption that everyone exposed to the H1N1 virus will get the flu. In fact, the large majority of people exposed to the virus will not get sick.

Even though you were in close contact with someone sick with swine flu, healthy young adults like yourselves have powerful immune systems that fight off a constant barrage of pathogens. When you are exposed to a virus, your body will produce antigens and develop immune resistance. In some people, this happens with very few disease symptoms; others will get quite sick. A vaccine does the same thing by tricking the body into thinking it is being exposed the virus.

Many people argue that there is no need to be vaccinated, that we should depend on our immune systems and bolster them with good nutrition. That is a bit of a gamble.

With H1N1, a new strain, it is anticipated that about one-third of the population will get sick. To date, it is estimated that about five per cent of Canadians have fallen ill with H1N1, so a lot more sick people are expected in the coming months.

While it is true that most cases of the flu are "self-limiting" - meaning you get better with rest and fluids, in rare instances people can get gravely ill and die. Again, the risk of complications is greatest in those with weaker immune systems - babies, children, people with chronic health conditions - but some healthy people will get severe illness.

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