H1N1 is especially dangerous for children. Experts don't believe that this virus is any less dangerous this year. More than 270 children died from the flu last year -- three times as many as in a typical flu season, according to the CDC. Pregnant women are also at high risk: Although they represent only 1 percent of the population, they accounted for 5 percent of the deaths from H1N1. Pregnant women who get H1N1 are also at higher risk for fetal distress, premature delivery, and emergency c-sections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded its annual flu shot advice to include everyone over 6 months old. That means you, even if you got both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 vaccine last year, because your immunity decreases over time and this year's shot includes a new strain. And even if you're pregnant, no matter what trimester you're in. Until now, the vaccine had been recommended only for children under 18, adults over 49, and those at special risk because of a medical condition and their caregivers.
The flu shot is the only vaccine that may still contain a trace amount of thimerosal, a form of mercury used as a preservative. Despite some parents' worries that mercury in immunizations could cause autism, there is no convincing evidence that this is the case, says Daniel Frattarelli, M.D., a pediatrician at Oakwood Hospital, in Dearborn, Michigan. However, you can request a thimerosal-free vaccine.
Public-health officials are concerned about the increasing number of kids with influenza who also develop pneumonia caused by the antibioticresistant bacterium known as MRSA. The flu is caused by a virus -- and the vaccine has no effect on bacteria -- but catching the flu makes some kids more susceptible to these potentially life-threatening bacteria.
Get the vaccine early because influenza typically gains momentum as the temperature drops. "In my family, we always try to get it before Halloween," says Carrie Byington, M.D., a member of the AAP's Committee on Infectious Diseases.
Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Parents magazine.