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Roldan Sevillano Jr.     Facts and fables about H1N1

There has been a lot of information and propaganda surrounding the H1N1 influenza and its vaccine. Some reports claim that getting vaccinated is the only option. Others believe that the chemicals found in the vaccine will only do more harm than good. I have spoken to various people over the past few weeks regarding this, and I was not surprised by their response. I discovered that about 50% of the people want to get vaccinated while the other 50% want nothing to do with it. It’s important to make an informed decision. It’s important to validate people’s concern for health and safety.

Taken from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) web site, here are some facts and some fiction on the topic.

H1N1 is just a bad flu. After a week or so I’ll feel better and be back at work.

H1N1 influenza can be deadly. This year, seven Manitobans have died from H1N1 Influenza, 80 Canadians have died and about 1500 admitted to hospital and about 300 to ICUs. Many of these people were of working age and a significant proportion did not have risk factors.

H1N1 influenza is only something the elderly or people with chronic illness should worry about.

People who required intensive care due to H1N1-related illness were young or middle age adults. Children six months to less than five years of age are at higher risk due to complications from H1N1. Even if you do not get very sick yourself, you may carry the virus home to people who are at high risk for infection. For health care workers, you may also expose your patients, residents or clients to the virus.

Only people who work with the elderly or patients in hospitals should worry about immunization or infection control.

H1N1 is a contagious disease that can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces like door handles. It can survive hours, even days in your environment. You can carry the virus to patients or bring it home to family without even knowing it.

People who get the flu shot, end up getting the flu. I’m afraid that the H1N1 vaccine will deplete my immune system.

You cannot catch the flu from a flu shot. Your immune system is always working to protect you as your body is in contact with millions of bacteria every day. It will have no difficulty handling the small amount of antigens in the flu vaccine.

I’ll wait to have my shot after everyone else has their shot, just to see if it is safe.

Getting the H1N1 flu shot as soon as possible poses less risk to your health than waiting. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective. Getting the shot early helps protect you and people you work with during the peak flu season, which can arrive at any time from fall to spring. Wait longer and you risk catching the flu.

Mercury (thimerosal) in the vaccine

The H1N1 influenza vaccine will contain a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal to prevent contamination of the vaccine by serious infectious agents from the growth of bacteria. The WRHA reports that there is no safety reason to avoid using vaccines containing thimerosal.

Adjuvant vs Non-adjuvant

An adjuvant is a substance that is added to a vaccine in order to boost the individual’s response. It also means that less of the virus or “antigen” is needed to make a dose of the vaccine. Non-adjuvanted vaccine has no “booster” element, and more antigen is needed to create this kind of vaccine. Pregnant women are advised to receive the non-adjuvanted vaccine, when it is available to be administered at clinics, briefly after the delivery of the adjuvant vaccine.

Manitobans who should get the H1N1 flu shot first include:

• Children aged six months to under five years old
• Anyone of Aboriginal ancestry (First Nations, Métis or Inuit disadvantaged individuals (for example, the homeless)
• People living in remote or isolated areas
• People under 65 with a chronic medical condition or other risks including severe obesity, substance abuse or alcoholism
• Anyone with a weakened immune system or those who live with or care for them;
• Those who live with or care for infants under six months old
• Single parents or anyone solely responsible for a dependent
• Health-care workers and medical first responders; and pregnant women (non-adjuvanted version)
• Followed by the general population

The following groups of people should not receive H1N1 vaccine:

• Children under six months old
• Those who have had previous anaphylactic reactions to any component of the vaccine
• Those with a hypersensitivity reaction to eggs (e.g. hives, swelling of mouth and/or throat, breathing difficulty)
• Those experiencing a high fever at the time of vaccination
• Those who have previously experienced Guillain-Barré syndrome within 8 weeks of receiving a seasonal influenza vaccine. 

At the end of the day, no matter how much research and investigating you may do, the safest solution is to seek the advice of your medical professional. The information presented here reflects the official position of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Be mindful that there are other circulating views completely discounting these claims that may bring up some issues not yet addressed. The best thing to do is to speak to your doctor and decide together what is the best solution for you.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority 

Roldan Sevillano Jr. works as a Recreation Therapist in a Winnipeg nursing home.

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