April 6, 2010

Flu Shot Safe For Kids With Egg Allergies

A new report in Pediatrics shows that the flu shot is safe for most kids with egg allergies.

There are concerns about giving the flu shot to kids with egg allergies because all flu vaccines are made in chicken eggs.  According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, about one in 60 U.S. children have this type of allergy.

However, Dr Lynda Schneider of Children's Hospital in Boston, one of the study's authors, told Reuters that today's influenza vaccines contain only miniscule amounts of egg protein.  "You're talking about a very small amount, I'd say on the order of a millionth of an egg, in the current vaccines."

Doctors typically use a skin test to conclude whether children with egg allergies are allergic to the flu vaccine.

However, Schneider said that she and her colleagues found the test was not very helpful in gauging a child's risk of having a severe reaction, so they stopped doing it.  The children allergic to eggs are given a tenth of the vaccine instead, and then the remainder only if she or he does not have a severe reaction.

Schneider, along with her team, reported that in their study, 171 children had received the flu vaccine in their practice, before and after the skin test was dropped.

Among the 56 children that had a skin test before vaccination, 95 percent tolerated the vaccine with no severe reaction, as did 97 percent of the children who did not have the skin test beforehand.  A few patients had mild reactions like itchiness, hives, or wheezing, but none of the reaction required treatment with epinephrine.

Schneider said that the researchers did not include any children in the study that suffered recent serious allergic reactions to eggs, such as anaphylaxis.  This is a severe allergic reaction that develops within seconds or minutes depending on the exposure.  It causes potentially life-threatening symptoms such as difficulty breathing.

The researchers said that parents of children with egg allergies should know that their children can receive the vaccine, and should discuss it with their physicians.  Although more research is still needed to figure out the best way to go about giving the shot to kids with egg allergies, Schneider told Reuters that the new findings suggest "you can maybe skip the testing."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone between six months and 18 years of age get the flu shot.  Schneider believes this protection is important for kids with asthma because they are higher risk of flu complications.

Schneider noted that because it is more complicated for them to get flue shots, egg-allergic kids are probably less likely than non-allergic kids to be immunized.  "We hope that by making things easier we can get more of those egg-allergic kids immunized."


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