With flu season approaching, a new study offers more reassurance that kids with egg allergies can be safely vaccinated against the virus.
"I think parents of children with egg allergy should be reassured about the safety of the influenza vaccine for their child, and understand that the benefits are likely to outweigh any risks," Dr. Lynda Schneider, director of the allergy program at Boston Children's Hospital, told Reuters Health by email.
Because the flu vaccine is grown in chicken eggs, there have traditionally been concerns about the safety of flu shots for people with egg allergies, most of whom are young children.
But today's vaccine has only tiny traces of egg protein, and studies have been showing that kids with egg allergies can be vaccinated without any serious reaction.
In the new study, Canadian researchers followed 367 egg-allergic people, mostly children, who got the flu shot over five years. Almost one-third of them had a history of anaphylaxis after eating eggs - that is, serious allergy symptoms like trouble breathing or a drop in blood pressure.
None of those patients, however, had a serious reaction to the flu vaccine. And only 13 of the 367 had mild "allergy-like" symptoms, like itchy skin or hives, within a day of the jab.
Researchers led by Dr. Anne Des Roches, of Hopital Sainte-Justine in Montreal, report the findings in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
"This article is important because it provides additional data on the safety of influenza vaccine in children with a history of anaphylaxis to egg," said Schneider, who was not involved in the study but has researched the safety of the flu vaccine for egg-allergic kids.
Des Roches did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
1.5 percent of kids affected
In general, experts recommend that all children age 6 months or older get an annual flu shot. Although the flu causes no more than a week or so of misery in most kids, children younger than 5 are at increased risk of flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections.
Egg allergy, meanwhile, affects about 1.5 percent of U.S. kids, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
And it's thought that many of those children have never gotten the flu shot over worries about an allergic reaction.
But overall, the evidence supports the safety of the vaccine for egg-allergic kids, according to Schneider.
In addition to reporting on the 367 Canadian patients, Des Roches and her colleagues also reviewed 26 past studies that involved close to 4,000 egg-allergic people who got the flu shot. None of those patients developed a serious allergic reaction.
"The risk of anaphylaxis appears sufficiently low for patients with egg allergy to be vaccinated like all other individuals, without requiring administration by an allergist," the researchers write.
Schneider said she thinks egg-allergic kids should get the flu shot from a doctor who can recognize and, if needed, treat a severe reaction. The protocol at the Boston center, she said, is to monitor egg-allergic kids for 30 minutes after the shot, to be safe.