The So-Called H1N1 Screening Test and Vaccine

Over the past week, Gavin’s school has been closed due to a report of H1N1 from one of the other parents.  Since Gavin had been sick recently, I immediately took him to the doctor to take the H1N1 test.  Well, it isn’t really an H1N1 test since all it does is confirm whether you have Influenza A but since H1N1 is a type of Influenza A, you can make a conclusion by association that if the test result is negative, you don’t have H1N1.

It is a pretty simple test.  All the doctor needs is a swab of mucus, then you wait fifteen minutes for the results.  Gavin has had the test done twice and according to the doctor, it is about 80-99% accurate.  Why the range in percentage?  Well, the first time Gavin went, he said it was about 80% accurate.  The second time he went, the doctor said it was 99% accurate.  Whether the second test is the new and improved version, I’m afraid I failed to check.  I find that having Gareth along seems to addle my brains.  I always seem to miss a lot of questions I normally would have asked if it had just been Gavin and me at the doctor’s.

Anyway, the doctor also recommended that we take the H1N1 vaccine which is now available with the general flu vaccine.  That’s something else I need to talk about, but first a little about the flu vaccine…

The general flu vaccine is a vaccine that must be given once every year for it to be effective.  I think the vaccine is updated yearly for new flu strains.  I remember having it once or twice when we were living in Australia during a year when the flu was reported to be “bad” that year.  I digress… for children are 9 years and younger, the flu vaccine has to be given in two doses – each one month apart.  It cannot be given to babies under six months.

I admit that I probably jumped the gun a little when I agreed to give the vaccine to Gavin.  I figured that since he was at school and bringing home germs on a daily basis, and now that we have a baby to be worried about, it was probably best for all to get him vaccinated.  After I did, I heard concerns from others:

1. H1N1 is too new for a vaccine to be developed – the current vaccine is developed from an old vaccine which is not necessarily specific to H1N1.  Well, here’s what WebMD has to say about it:

“Is the swine flu vaccine brand new? Yes and no. The 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine is made exactly the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine, by the same manufacturers using the same materials — except for one shiny new piece.

What has changed is the piece of the virus the vaccine uses to prime the immune system.

Vaccine experts tell WebMD this change isn’t all that new. Every couple of years or so, a new variant of a seasonal flu virus comes along. When that happens, a “new” vaccine is made using the relevant part of the variant virus.

And even though the 2009 H1N1 swine flu is a genuinely new virus, it’s still closely related to seasonal flu bugs.”

2. H1N1 vaccine has caused death in some people and some very bad side effects.  Here’s the background on that one from CBS News:

“…a swine flu vaccine could cause GBS or Guillian-Barre Syndrome, a brain disorder.

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained on “The Early Show” Monday the risk of GBS is very low — one in every million vaccinations.

Ashton explained GBS is a rare, neurologic disorder that has elements of an auto-immune condition in that some trigger (usually an infection or rarely a vaccination against an infection) results in a progressive weakening of nerves. GBS starts in the legs and works its way up the body. Estimates are that it may occur one time out of 100,000 or one million vaccine doses. In most cases, Ashton said, patients recover approximately four weeks from the first symptoms, and 80 percent of people have a complete recovery. Some however, can die from GBS; the death rate is quoted as 2 to 3 people in 100.”

Gareth was also due to see his paediatrician for his next vaccination on his schedule but since he was sick, I took him a couple of days early.  I asked the doctor about the H1N1 vaccine and she informed me that the H1N1 vaccine that was incorporated into the general flu vaccine was okay to take.  There were some other H1N1 vaccines floating around which she wouldn’t recommend taking, however.  There is also a specific H1N1 vaccine that the MoH has which is currently not available to the general public.  That particular vaccine is being reserved for special cases only.

Since there was some debate over whether you should or should not get the H1N1 vaccine, I asked Gareth’s paediatrician for her professional opinion and she reckons you should get it – the combination vaccine, that is.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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