Asked by Linda, North Texas
I'm 45 years old. My doctor says I have a severe allergy to eggs. I've had only one flu shot in my life and I got very sick in the immediate aftermath. I've been lucky through my life to either get a mild flu or not at all, but with so many coming down with what seems to be an awful flu this season, and my increasing age -- I worry.
What can I do to protect myself? Is there an eggless flu shot?
Living Well Expert
Dr. Jennifer Shu
Children's Medical Group
Thanks for writing, Linda. I'm glad you are thinking about ways to protect yourself from the flu (influenza) since the flu season can continue as late as May of each year, and immunization can prevent or lessen the severity of a case of the flu.
All influenza vaccines are made by growing influenza virus particles in chicken eggs before treating them in a way to kill (inactivate) or weaken the viruses. Influenza shots contain tiny amounts of egg protein, with varying amounts found in different brands of the vaccine. Because of the remaining amount of egg in the injection, it should not be given to people who have an anaphylactic allergic response to egg. This can be defined as an allergic reaction that includes hives throughout the body, a drop in blood pressure or airway blockage after eating egg.
A physician who specializes in allergies can perform skin tests to help determine whether someone is allergic to eggs. Sometimes, skin tests can be done using diluted portions of the influenza vaccine itself. If a person has a negative skin test, he or she can generally receive the vaccine and then be monitored for about 30 minutes afterward to watch for a reaction. For a positive skin test, options may include avoiding the flu vaccine altogether and considering antiviral medicines if one does get the flu or receiving the vaccine slowly in small, divided doses while under close supervision.
Products containing cooked and processed eggs such as bread, cake and other baked goods often contain more egg protein than influenza shots. According to some allergy specialists in my area, if a person is able to eat these products without an allergic reaction, he or she is likely to tolerate a flu shot as well.
The nasal spray flu vaccine, which is an option for people ages 2 to 49 years without certain conditions such as asthma, diabetes or a suppressed immune system, contains more egg protein than the injections and should not be given to anyone with an egg allergy.
Be sure to talk with your physician about your own situation, and I wish you the best of luck.
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