The annual flu shot can be a dreaded battle for those with kids; tears and screaming as your little one is reminded of his/her last vaccine experience: a pointy needle and pain in the arm.
But for those looking to escape the crying, screaming and the anxiety, there is another option: a needle-free vaccine that is administered as a nasal spray, now available for free for Ontario children and youth aged 2 - 17.
The vaccine requires one small spray into each nostril, an approach that can be much less terrifying to children who have developed a needle phobia.
And here's the kicker: nasal spray flu vaccines have been found to be more effective in kids aged 2 - 6 than the traditional, intramuscular flu vaccine.
According to Andrea Goncz, primary care registered nurse with Sunnybrook's Academic Family Health Team, the nasal spray flu vaccine has been well-received by parents of young children.
"Parents don't have to go through yelling and screaming at the flu clinic... and it's such a tiny amount that the kids barely notice it. They giggle because I'm tickling their nose hairs," she says.
There are, however, a few differences between nasal spray flu vaccines and the traditional flu vaccine - mainly, the forms of flu virus each vaccine contains. The traditional flu vaccine contains dead flu virus, whereas the nasal spray flu vaccines contain weakened, live flu virus.
The weakened, live flu virus stimulates the immune system to create antibodies against the flu in the person receiving the vaccine. It's important to note that the live flu virus in nasal spray flu vaccines is so weak that it will not cause the virus in those receiving the vaccine.
But while the live vaccine won't cause the flu, it does place limitations on who is eligible to receive nasal spray flu vaccines.
Those who cannot receive nasal spray flu vaccines include: people with immune-compromising conditions, children with severe asthma, pregnant women, or people with egg allergies.
Nasal spray flu vaccines are available for use in people aged 2 - 59, but only shows higher efficacy than the traditional flu shot in children aged two to six.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends use of live vaccines, like nasal spray flu vaccines, "in healthy children and adolescents two to 17 years of age."
NACI also recommends use of live vaccines in healthy adults aged 18 - 59, but notes there is some inconsistent evidence that the traditional flu vaccine is more effective than nasal spray flu vaccines in people of this age group.
If you're considering a nasal spray flu vaccine, talk to your health care provider to determine whether you / your child is eligible.
The flu is not just a "bad cold." In fact, for those who are vulnerable, the flu can lead to complications, hospitalization and even death. Reduce your risk, and the risk of others, by getting your flu shot
By Jessica Lepore, Junior Digital Communications Specialist at Sunnybrook.
Read more health tips & information from Sunnybrook experts at health.sunnybrook.ca
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Children younger than six months are in one of the higher-risk groups for flu complications, but they are too young to receive the annual vaccine. The best way to protect the youngest kids is for those around them -- including parents, siblings, and caretakers -- to get their flu shots.
Pregnant women are able to get the injectable flu vaccine. This helps to protect them from the more serious complications, for which they are at higher risk, if they do contract the flu. But it can also help protect their babies before they reach the six-month minimum for vaccination, as the mother can pass on antibodies developed as a result of the vaccine to her child in utero and through breast milk.
Have a child who particularly hates shots? Ask your doctor about the FluMist nasal flu vaccine. It provides flu protection through a nasal spray instead of an injection. In some provinces, a prescription may be required and a small fee could apply.
Public health officials recommend that all children aged six months and older, with very few exceptions, get an annual flu shot.
Some people report contracting the flu shortly after receiving a flu shot, but the two are just coincidental, not related. The injection vaccine contains an inactivated virus that can't make you sick -- it's impossible to get the flu from the shot. It takes a week or two for the vaccine prevention to kick in, so if you come down with something shortly after getting your shot, you were likely exposed before you were vaccinated.
The single-dose flu shot and nasal spray are both free of thiomerosol, a preservative that contains mercury and has been a source of concern for some parents. As well, research that indicated a link between the preservative and autism has been disproven and officially retracted.
Children under the age of two years old are the group most likely to experience serious complications because of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. And it's not unusual for kids to require medical care for influenza, especially if they are younger than five.
Kids with existing medical conditions -- including asthma, diabetes and brain or nervous system disorders -- are particularly at risk of developing serious complications if they get the flu, according to the CDC. And the highest number of flu cases are found in children aged one to four, according to the Ontario government.
The CDC advises that some children aged six months to eight years will require two doses of the flu vaccine in order to receive its full benefits. Kids who are getting the shot for the first time should get two doses: one as early into the flu season as possible, and a second at least 28 days later.
A new study from the CDC found that 40 per cent of young children who die because of influenza have no other chronic health issues. The researchers found that there have been 830 flu-related deaths since October 2004 in children younger than 18 in the U.S. In examining the records of 794 of those children, they discovered that 43 per cent had no pre-existing conditions that would make them more at risk for serious flu complications. The study recommends that sick children who are experiencing breathing problems or confusion should be brought to the hospital for medical attention.
The influenza vaccine mutates yearly, and the flu vaccine provided each year contains protection against the three strains thought to be most threatening for that particular flu season. Getting vaccinated each year ensures that protection stays current.
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