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September 24th, 2009
10:40 AM ET

Do I need the H1N1 vaccine if I think I already had the virus?

As a regular feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors answers readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Birgitta in Newcastle, Washington:

I think I already had the swine flu but do not know for sure if it was swine flu, do I take the vaccination anyway? Is it safe to take if I suspect that the flu I had was swine flu?

Answer:

Tens of thousands of people right now, like Birgitta, are suffering from or getting over the H1N1 virus. Those numbers will continue to swell as the flu season wears on, and these questions will inevitably come up over and over again.

Incidentally, I can relate. I contracted the H1N1 virus recently while reporting on the war in Afghanistan, and I was miserable for days. I got my immunity to H1N1 the hard way, so I can take a pass on the vaccine this year. But what about people who are not as sure, like Birgitta?

The bottom line is, unless you got a laboratory test confirming it, you cannot be sure that you actually got the H1N1 virus. There are several strains of influenza floating around out there this season, two of which are H1N1 and seasonal influenza. There are a handful of other strains you could have contracted.

The old adage, "Better to be safe than sorry," may apply here. Unless you're sure you had H1N1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you get vaccinated. Even if you did, in theory, get H1N1 the CDC reports no evidence that subsequently getting the H1N1 vaccine would cause problems for you.

You can think about your vaccination like an insurance policy. If you did have H1N1 during your recent illness, then you're protected. If you did not, you're also protected.

If you're wondering when the vaccine will be available, the largest shipment of H1N1 vaccine is scheduled for mid-October. By then, the first 45 million doses of the vaccine will be ready, with another 20 million doses shipped out each week until December.

And don't forget, the CDC recommends that you get the seasonal flu vaccine as well.


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. orlando Aanda

    I had Gillain Barret when I was a child- 1969 and had a 100% recuperation. What are the risks of getting vaccinated for the H1N1 virus?

    Thanks

    October 1, 2009 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mary Canaday

    I am having trouble understanding why it is that some pediatricians are recommending that children receive the H1N1 vacc and others do not. My grandchildren are 4 and two are 9. From most of the literature that I have been reading, it encourages this age to get the shot. Last night on nightline, it showed two young children, both on ventalators. The young boy of approx 12 years old had been to his MD and the parents were told that he was OK. Less than 12 hrs later, the child was in ICU, vented, and had a chest tube in for a collapsed lung. Neither child was given the flu shot. How are we to understand as parents and grandparents what is the best for our children. If it does attack the 6 mo to 24 years, why are the MD's not recommending the shot. Thank You

    October 14, 2009 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mary Ann

    I am a 72 year old with COPD, Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis and several other problems. I have been hospitalized three times in the past 18 months, and experienced a near death trauma. I am not eligible for H1N1, according to the guidelines, however, I am very anxious that should i get this flu I wont survive..and I have a lot of living to do!! They say I have probably already been exposed to this virus, but what if I wasnt? When will this vaccine be available to all who want it?

    November 7, 2009 at 08:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Linda

    My husband received his H1N1 vaccine shot today but he has been running a low grade temperature and suffering with congestion. Is there any danger from receiving the vaccine if he currently has the virus??

    February 3, 2010 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. trish laffey

    hi my son got h1n1 in october now school says they have to be vaccinated does he need it ?he was swabbed and it was definatly H1N1 in hospital.my doctors office said he should get it he had asthma up til three years ago?

    March 1, 2010 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.