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October 1, 2009
One patient wonders: Should I have any concerns about getting—or having my children get—the seasonal influenza and/or the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine if an immediate family member developed Guillain-Barré syndrome after receiving an injection last year?
A patient called me on September 17 wondering if she should get the trivalent flu shot currently available and/or the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available for herself, her husband, and her children, who are 2½ and 7 months old. Her father developed severe Guillain-Barré syndrome a week after getting a flu shot last year.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune process that attacks peripheral nerves to skeletal muscles. It can be so severe that patients become bedridden, cannot move their arms or legs, and even may require a mechanical ventilator to breathe. A tiny fraction of 1 percent of patients who receive flu shots (and other immunizations) may develop this syndrome, and most recover almost completely.