Good evening fdp...you ask a question that many people are asking these days.
First and foremost, you should always consult with your veterinarian before using any sort of flea medication on your pet. Although the vast majority of them are safe when used properly, there will always be an occasional dog or cat who has an individual reaction.
To address your concerns about the news coverage, let me share some facts with you. The EPA received a significant increase in the number of reported adverse reactions to topical flea and tick products from 2007 to 2008. The reported number was 44,000 adverse events.
During that time frame, more than 270 million doses of flea products were sold through over the counter outlets as well as veterinary channels. That means that there was a reaction for every 6316 doses sold. To complicate matters, the EPA took all accounts at face value...there was no investigation as to whether the product was used correctly, was used with other flea products, or if the pet had other issues.
On the EPA website, they actually detail about 29,000 of these events. The remaining 15,000 were likely dismissed due to lack of information about the adverse reaction. So, that lowers the reaction incidence rate to about 1 in every 9000 doses sold.
In addition, 95-97% of all adverse reactions were listed as mild (no treatment needed, quick resolution) to moderate (somewhat more severe, animal recovered completely with or without treatment).
Many of the products (especially those sold through veterinary channels) have been shown to be safe and effective products. Names like Frontline, Advantage, ProMeris and Vectra 3D are all good products to use. BUT...again, talk with your veterinarian about the potential problems your pet might encounter.
And, very important.....follow directions! Many of the reported events were due to owners using dog products on cats, cat products on dogs, or owners using the product inappropriately (giving it by mouth instead of placing it on the skin, etc).
I hope that helps answer your concerns...you have a young, hopefully healthy dog. I would think that your veterinarian can help you find a product that can work to keep those fleas away.