Ask Dr. John

Flu & H1N1

Lily writes: "Does the flu shot really protect people against the flu and is it safe?"

In a nutshell the answer is YES! Each year the flu vaccine is changed to match the type of flu most likely to hit the United States. This year it not only contains vaccine against the normal seasonal flu strains, but also one for the H1N1 "swine" flu. Like everything else in life, there is no 100% guarantee and some people do manage to still get the flu even after they've gotten the shot. The good news is that the shot keeps their flu more mild than it would otherwise have been. It'll also help keep you out of the hospital and away from the more serious complications the flu can sometimes bring along with it. Plus, if you have others around you, especially the very young, very old or very sick, the flu shot can help make sure you don't spread it to them.

Don from Pueblo West: "In early January, I got an H1N1 flu shot. Since then, I've had four colds (all in my sinuses). Is something wrong? Also, I have a mild case of Parkinson's. OTC cold remedies counteract the medications I take. Any recommendations for some OTC relief?"

It's hard to pinpoint things like colds or sinus infections to one specific incident. Most reactions to vaccinations, like the H1N1 shot, are usually short lived and involve a low grade fever and arm soreness. Some feel a little "under the weather" for a day or two. But, it's doubtful this shot caused your intermittent colds. Most likely it is related to a "bug" going through the community or to seasonal allergies. If it continues like this you might want to consider getting allergy tested to find out what you are allergic to. This will help you avoid whatever might be triggering your cold symptoms. As for cold remedies, they ALL only help with symptoms but can interfere with current health or medications. Some medications like guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin, etc.), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) are usually considered safe to take with other Parkinson's medication. Your best bet, as always, is to talk with your local pharmacist to make sure you get something that will help you feel better and not interfere with medications you're already taking.

Dave from Colorado Springs: "I am a 66-year-old who was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer in 2007. I have COPD and use SPIRIVA once a day. Should I get both of the flu shots, only one, or neither?"

This year, the H1N1 and regular flu shots are combined into one vaccine. In your case, your rectal cancer and COPD put you at a higher risk of having a bad outcome if you come down with the flu. The CDC is recommending those with cancer get the flu shot, but not the flu nasal spray. For more information about their specific recommendations, you can go to As always, talking with your doctor can help clear up any confusion about who should and shouldn't take the vaccine this year.

Lisa from Colorado Springs: "I have a 9-year-old son with Cerebral Palsy. He is very orally stimulated and tries to put everything in his mouth. Do you have any advice for extra protection against H1N1 until he can be vaccinated?"

The recommendation is the same for H1N1 or the regular flu. Keeping kids from collecting germs is nearly impossible. So, your best bet is to keep them as healthy as possible with healthy eating habits. One vitamin that has received much attention lately for its role in keeping us healthy is vitamin D. In addiction, the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed its recommendation for vitamin D, upping the amount needed by children and adolescents to 400 IU per day. They also say if a child isn't getting that much from his or her diet, then a supplement containing vitamin D should be considered.

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