I worked in a flu lab for a year and was part of the team trying to understand the genetic nature of the flu virus. How did it change it’s genetic makeup so quickly each year so that we needed to update our flu vaccination annually? Little did I expect to have to deal with questions on what to do about egg allergy. You see, until recently, all flu vaccines were prepared in eggs. Now, there are some brands available that are not made in eggs. Should a child or adult with egg allergy try to brave the flu season naturally or should they protect themselves by taking a vaccine, until recently only made in eggs?
The Flu photo (from CDC archives http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/images.htm) which shows the external H and N proteins that change to require new vaccine every year and the internal, coiled RNA genetic material.
If you have never had the flu, chances are you may never get the flu. You may want to get expert advice on whether you need any protection at all. If you or your child has gotten the flu in the past, chances are that you and/or your child will get the flu again, and it may be best to get advice from an allergist on the safest vaccination options if egg allergy is an issue. There is an excellent article in the British Medical Journal in 2009 by Lajeunesse and colleagues on egg allergy and flu vaccines. You may also want to see my article on “Should I get the flu vaccine this year?” for the 2011-2012 flu season.
Egg free vaccines have recently been researched and produced using a new technique in a mammalian cell line instead of eggs. Surface antigen, split virion, subunit, split flu, and inactivated flu vaccines are grown in hens’ eggs and do contain residual egg proteins. During the 2008 flu season, some but not all flu vaccines reported maximum egg protein content above 1.2 ug/ml with levels up to 2ug/ml. The proposed safety egg content is less than 1.2ug/ml (0.6ug per dose). Some vaccines often have much less residual egg protein, although still grown in egg cultures, such as virosomal vaccines, which are highly purified.
The youngest and the oldest are most at risk from succumbing to the flu. Certain elderly are recommended a much higher dose of flu vaccine to be effectively protected. It is important to note that egg-free mammalian culture based flu vaccines are now available or under clinical trials and should be given preferentially under expert advise to individuals allergic to egg. If an egg-free vaccine is unavailable, then check the maximum egg content of the vaccine and ensure that it is below 1.2ug/ml. The vaccination should be done in a center experienced in management of anaphylaxis if the doctor advises so. A single dose protocol is effective for individuals with less severe allergy. A 2 dose split protocol is recommended for asthma prone or anaphylaxis prone individuals.
In USA, flu vaccines developed in egg-free manufacture protocols are unavailable. So, if you are allergic to eggs, do visit an allergist. They have a protocol with which they could administer the vaccine. The steps include pricking your arm with egg extracts to elicit an allergy response from which they determine the pros and cons of giving you the vaccine. In Europe, Flugen is under clinical trial and showing promise. Celvapran (Baxter) a pandemic vaccine for A/H1N1 and Optiflu (Novartis) a seasonal flu vaccine have good safety records for egg allergy. You may also read “Next generation of flu vaccines coming of age: Cell – based technology may replace egg – based flu vaccines“, by Teddi Dineley Johnson
It is predicted that the H1N1 will return in 2010 fall around the same time as it did in 2009. The spring flu may have been displaced by the fall flu. If so, then it may be a race against time to vaccinate our kids safely and effectively before the fall H1N1 flu season descends upon us. Take advise, be cautious, and make a wise decision. If you had the H1N1 flu last year, then you may have a level of natural immunity to this year’s H1N1 flu virus. You may not need a vaccine for this flu variety, however, a vaccine would give you a quicker defense response on exposure (booster). This flu season the vaccine includes protection against additional A and B flu varieties called a trivalent protection. This vaccine gives you protection hopefully until next September, unless new flu strains develop before that. There is a race to produce a ‘life time’ flu vaccine targeting proteins of the flu virus that do not usually change every year. Then, one vaccine would give us life time protection. Until then, we have to consider the flu vaccine annually to protect us against the crafty new flu virus strain. I have full confidence in our global flu scientists and believe they can outwit the wily flu virus.
As for eating naturally to prevent the flu, there are oranges, providing vitamin C, there is garlic reputed to keep a family save through many recipes and always ginger, against inflammation. Gargling with salt daily in flu season is very helpful.
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