Swine Flu and Children

Everything you need to know about the vaccine, symptoms and treatment.

by Shelley Abreu

October 23, 2009



Swine flu season is upon us, and that raises a lot of questions. As this year’s health scare spreads, Babble is giving answers to all your questions about your kids and the H1N1 virus. Learn everything you need to know about the vaccine, signs to watch for, treatment and whether you’re worrying too much, or not enough. – Babble Editors

It’s the question every parent seems to be asking: Are you getting the H1N1 flu vaccine for your child? The CDC and FDA both claim that the vaccine is safe and effective, yet, according to several polls, more than one third of parents might decline to have their children vaccinated.

So, are parents’ fears valid?

Simply put, parents are concerned that the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus itself. The basis of those concerns stems back to the 1976 swine flu vaccine produced during that outbreak of H1N1. It was associated with a slightly increased risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a disorder in which the body’s immune system damages its own nerve cells. In rare cases, it can cause death or permanent damage, although the majority of people do recover. In the United States, the chance of contracting GBS with or without receiving a vaccination is approximately 1 in 100,000. In 1976 the rate increased slightly to approximately 2 in 100,000 among those who received the swine flu vaccine. Scientists have never determined a definitive reason for the increased risk, but the CDC believes that advances in how vaccines are made today will very likely prevent an increased risk with the current H1N1 vaccine.

For parents who are still concerned about the potential risk of GBS, it may be helpful to consider that more children have already died since August 30th of this year from the swine flu than those who died from GBS during the vaccination period in 1976 (Approximately 500 people contracted GBS and twenty-five died).



4 Most Important Things Parents Should Know About Swine Flu

With the barrage of info out there, we enlisted the expertise of Dr. Richard Besser, senior health and medical editor at ABC News, to help sort it out. Here’s what you absolutely need to know about swine flu. – Andrea Zimmerman

1. Swine flu is preventable

Just like any other respiratory infections, encourage your kids to wash their hands and cover their cough. If your child is sick, keep them home from school.

2. Children are at a greater risk

The CDC reports that hospitalization rates for children are very high and 80 deaths have occurred so far–a higher number than what they tend to see over the entire flu season in a year.

3. Children with underlying medical conditions are at even greater risk. If your kid has a medical condition like asthma, cystic fibrosis, or cerebral palsy that makes it hard for them to breath, vaccinate them and talk to your doctor to draw out a treatment plan before your child gets sick.

4. Watch for danger signs. Take your child to the doctor if they exhibit any blue or grayness around the lips, which means they’re not getting enough oxygen, or if they have trouble breathing. Look for gasping or pulling at their chest; babies may have trouble nursing or sucking from a bottle.



Who are the vaccine opponents?

Many parents continue to worry about other safety aspects of the current H1N1 vaccine, in part because of the fast-tracked safety trials the vaccine underwent. A vocal minority of doctors against the vaccine have increased those fears. Dr. Mercola, publisher of a popular natural-health website, is the author of the article, “Do Not Let Your Child Get Flu Vaccine: 9 Reasons Why,” which is now circulating as an email. Yet much of the information contained in that piece is misleading. For instance, Dr. Mercola claims that the vaccines used in trials differ from the final version. But the FDA says this is emphatically untrue. They state, “The vaccines used in studies to determine dose and regimen are the same vaccines that were licensed.” He also argues that American children are over-vaccinated, suggests that the vaccine contains squalene (though it’s not used in the U.S. at all, and has a good safety record in Europe), and cites climbing autism rates as a reason not to vaccinate (though recent studies all disprove any connection).

Dr. Kent Holtorf, in an interview with Fox News back in September, disseminated similar mis-information when he called the vaccine “too big of a risk.” In his segment, he said the vaccine was “rushed to market” and also mistakenly said that it contains “high levels of adjuncts, including squalene” and that vaccines are “highly implicated in autism.”


Opponents like Dr. Larry Palevsky, a New York-based pediatrician and President and Co-Founder of the Pediatric Holistic Foundation, insist that the vaccine’s safety cannot be proven. He’s advising his patients to pass. “Having the authorities tell us it’s completely safe is in contradiction to how safety studies need to be done, and how data needs to be collected in order for us to conclude they are safe enough to administer,” says Dr. Palevsky.

Is the vaccine really safe?

The CDC disagrees with Dr. Palevsky. Abbigail Tumpey, a spokesperson for the Immunization Safety Office, indicates that vaccines are actually one of the most regulated kinds of medicine for safety. What’s more, the vaccine is made using the same tested and approved methods as the seasonal flu vaccine. Dr. Grace Lee, Assistant Professor of Population Medicine & Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, is currently involved in the active surveillance of H1N1 and seasonal influenza vaccine safety. She explains, “Each year, the seasonal flu vaccines change to accommodate [different] strains of flu – meaning that the flu strains that circulate each season differ from the previous year. H1N1 is just like the seasonal flu vaccine, it’s just that the H1N1 vaccine will protect against the circulating H1N1 strain in the community.” While Dr. Lee acknowledges that, although rare, adverse reactions can occur with any vaccine, she says the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Concerns that dominate all vaccine programs have also made their way into the swine flu conversation. Anti-vaccine groups have postulated that flu vaccines aren’t very effective – another reason parents might skip the swine flu vaccine. While the CDC admits no vaccine is 100% effective, they also state that they’ve “seen a very good immunoresponse in adults and older children that was evident within eight to ten days after the vaccination was given.” The seasonal flu vaccine is considered two-thirds effective in young children, and the swine flu vaccine may yield better results since the vaccine is matched to the virus strain. (Note: children under ten will need two doses for the vaccine to be adequately effective).

Everything you need to know about the vaccine, symptoms and treatment.

by Shelley Abreu

October 23, 2009




What about thimerosal?

Some parents are also concerned about the inclusion of thimerosal in the H1N1 vaccine. Despite repeated studies that disprove any link between autism and the mercury preservative thimerosal, small groups of doctors, celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, and organizations like the The National Vaccine Information Center may help perpetuate this idea. Though the CDC says that, yes, thimerosal is used (as with the seasonal flu vaccine) and is not related to autism, parents can still request single-dose thimerosal-free vaccines from their pediatricians.

Nevertheless, the unknown will still stop some parents from vaccinating their children. Many parents maintain the position that because the H1N1 flu appears to be mostly mild in the general population, it’s not worth taking any chance with the vaccine.

Yet there is some legitimate cause for concern. Since September 28, 2008, there have been 147 reported influenza-associated pediatric deaths during the 2008-2009 season and seventy-six were attributed to the swine flu virus. And, as twenty-nine deaths have occurred since August 30, 2009, the swine flu might be becoming more deadly as the 2009-2010 flu season gets underway. Though not necessarily more virulent than the seasonal flu, it is more widespread and more contagious, and the more people it reaches, the more people it could kill.

Who is most at risk?

Pregnant women and children with underlying health conditions also seem to have a disproportionately increased risk of complications and death from the swine flu. Approximately two thirds of the children who have died had underlying health conditions. For these children, it’s especially important to get the vaccine.


What’s the verdict?

Fear of vaccines cannot be completely eliminated, but the majority of research and evidence points to their safety. What’s more, the CDC has devised a careful monitoring system to track and respond to any kind of adverse reactions that might develop. Aside from a vocal minority, the majority of the medical profession seems to wholeheartedly support swine flu vaccination. When all is said and done, it’s hard to find any real evidence that suggests that the risk of side effects from the vaccine outweigh the tremendous benefit to children, pregnant women and adults alike.

Everything you need to know about the vaccine, symptoms and treatment.

by Shelley Abreu

October 23, 2009



What to Do if Your Child Gets the Flu

As the flu season gets underway, many parents anxiously await the arrival of the H1N1 vaccine. Until the vaccine is widely available, parents should continue practicing common sense precautions. Frequent hand-washing is the best defense. A healthy diet, proper exercise, and plenty of rest can also help boost a child’s immune system. Parents should also ensure their child has received the pneumococcal vaccine since many swine flu deaths have resulted from pneumonia infections. Healthy adults and children with the swine flu don’t necessarily need to seek medical attention if they contract the flu and their symptoms remain mild, but children with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders, kidney and liver disorders and those with weakened immune systems should be watched carefully. If you suspect the flu in these cases, call your doctor. Studies have shown that for children with underlying health conditions, antiviral treatment should be started as soon as possible after the illness begins. The CDC also recommends that pregnant women receive antiviral treatment if they exhibit flu symptoms. If your child experiences any of the following, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

For additional information about treatment and prevention of the swine flu please visit the CDC website.

Everything you need to know about the vaccine, symptoms and treatment.

by Shelley Abreu

October 23, 2009



H1N1 by the Numbers

  • An estimated one million people became sick with the H1N1 flu between April and June 2009 in the United States.
  • The number of reported cases of swine flu is highest among people 5 years to 24 years of age (26.7 per 100,000), followed by those that are 0 to 4 years of age (22.9 per 100,000 people).
  • The highest rate of hospitalization has occurred in children 0 to 4 years of age.
  • 32% of those hospitalized with H1N1 flu had asthma.
  • 76 confirmed pediatric deaths have been reported to the CDC since April 2009.
  • Pregnant women are at least four times more likely to be hospitalized from swine flu.
  • Between April and August of 2009, 28 pregnant women have died from swine flu.
  • The number of deaths was highest among people 25 to 49 years of age
  • (39%), followed by people 50 to 64 year of age (25%) and people 5 to
  • 24 years of age (16%).
  • 90% of regular seasonal influenza-related deaths occur in people 65 years of age and older.
  • The seasonal flu vaccine can prevent 66% or more influenza infections in young children.
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