Every winter flu season descends upon us making our lives miserable for a couple weeks. The flu, or influenza, is a lung infection that causes symptoms of fever, cough, sneezing, body aches, fatigue, and headaches. Contrary to popular belief, the flu has nothing to do with your gut and does not make you throw up. Every year, 5-10% of adults and 20-30% of children get infected resulting in 3 to 5 million cases of disease and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year worldwide. In the US, each flu season leads to nearly 111 million lost days of work and 32 million lost days of school. The flu can be prevented by washing your hands, avoiding people who are sick, staying at home when you are sick, and getting the yearly vaccination. Each season, researchers predict using sophisticated models which flu strains will be the most prevalent in the coming season. They must do this month’s in advance in order to have the vaccine ready in time. This vaccine is the single most effective way of preventing an infection from the influenza virus.
For people with asthma the flu can really cause serious problems including an increased of chance of getting pneumonia due to the infection. Because of this risk, people with asthma are recommended to get the flu vaccine every season. One option for the vaccine is one that contains live, weakened virus. This vaccine usually is grown in the eggs of hens and so there has been concern from some people that people or children with an egg allergy would be at risk of having an allergic reaction to this vaccine. With a lack of safety data to date, we didn’t know if these vaccines would be safe for everyone. To answer this question, a group of researchers from London recruited 779 people aged 2-18 years old and gave them the vaccine in a controlled setting to monitor any side effects. Of the people recruited, 34% had a pervious anaphylactic reaction to egg and 57% had asthma. Following administration of the vaccine, none of the participants experienced anaphylactic reactions and only 9 of the participants had mild skin irritation at the site of injection. Some of the patients experienced wheeze 3 days after the vaccine but that disappeared and no other symptoms were seen for up to 4 weeks after the injection.
What this means is that even in people with an allergy to egg or with asthma the flu vaccine is safe. Getting the vaccine is an important part of preventing the spread of disease and keeping everyone healthy. For people with asthma, it is especially important to get vaccinated.