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Questions and answers about the flu vaccine: egg allergy, asthma and more

flu2It’s flu season again, and if you have asthma or other chronic conditions you are probably getting your flu vaccine soon. Many people who do not have chronic health conditions also get the flu shot to help prevent the spread of the disease to more vulnerable people in the community.

Doctor’s offices, most pharmacies and many community centres and workplaces offer flu shot clinics on a drop-in basis. You can also get a flu shot at your doctor’s office. Note: In Canada, children younger than age 5 must receive their flu shot at the doctor’s office.

We recently spoke with Dr. Tracy Pitt, MD, FRCPC, about the flu vaccine, asthma and allergy. In addition to her work as a pediatric allergist, Dr. Pitt also teaches and supervises medical students, residents and fellows at Humber Hospital in Toronto and Winnipeg Children’s Hospital.

Q. How does the flu shot help protect people with asthma and others in our community?

Dr. Pitt: Asthma is chronic lung disease (it is the most common chronic disease in childhood) that can be worsened by viruses such as influenza. Most people recover from influenza in 7 to 10 days; however, some are at greater risk of more severe complications, such as pneumonia and even death. It is estimated that 12,500 people are admitted to hospital each year for complications of the flu and about 3,500 die, according to Public Health Agency of Canada.

The flu shot is the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications.

Q. Who should get the flu shot? 

Dr. Pitt: The flu shot is recommended for all individuals aged 6 months and older, with particular focus on people at high risk of influenza-related complications or hospitalization, including all pregnant women and people capable of transmitting influenza to those at high risk, like those with chronic health conditions.                                                                          

Q. Is the flu shot safe for people with egg allergies?

Dr. Pitt: The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has concluded that egg allergic individuals may be vaccinated against influenza using the injectable flu shot vaccine without a prior influenza vaccine skin test and with the full dose. However, the nasal spray vaccine (LAIV FluMist®) should not be given to egg allergic individuals, as egg allergy has not yet been studied for LAIV.

Q. How common is an allergic reaction to the flu shot?

Dr. Pitt: A recent US study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined the relationship between vaccines and anaphylaxis between 2009 and 2011 and found the phenomenon was rare in all age groups.

In terms of egg allergy, one group of researchers conducted a study and reviewed 26 previous studies including 4,172 patients with egg allergy who received 4,729 doses of influenza vaccine with no cases of anaphylaxis (Des Roches et al.). Several other studies have also showed no cases of anaphylaxis in egg-allergic individuals.

Q. When is the flu shot going to be available?

Dr. Pitt: It’s available now in most parts of Canada.

Thanks for your time, Dr. Pitt. Very helpful information!

Dr. Pitt: Thank you.

    • Learn more about managing asthma
    • For information on the flu shot and latex allergy, please consult your allergist. The American Latex Allergy Association also offers this helpful guide.

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