From the National Women's Health Resource Center
Q: I am allergic to eggs and cannot get a flu vaccine. Are there any other prevention options available to me?
A: Because traditional flu vaccines are produced in chicken eggs, people who are allergic to eggs are advised not to get an influenza vaccine because it could trigger a serious reaction. This issue became more relevant in recent years when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that children aged six to 59 months be vaccinated against the flu. This age group is most likely to have an egg allergy.
However, in some instances people who have a high risk of complications from the flu, such as those with asthma, may still receive a vaccine containing the killed virus. This is important because people with asthma, particularly children, are more likely to have egg allergy.
Before assuming you have an egg allergy, however, ask your doctor to give you a skin test. Egg allergy in adults is rare; it generally appears in infancy and childhood, and most people outgrow it.
While the CDC recommends that people with egg allergies not be vaccinated without consulting a physician, research has shown that a couple of vaccination strategies may work. There are two approaches: 1) vaccinating the person after a series of allergy shots to desensitize the person to eggs; and 2) giving the vaccine in two doses, 30 minutes apart. The first dose contains one-tenth the recommended dose of the vaccine, and the second nine-tenth of the vaccine. This latter approach has been successfully tested in a large, multi-center clinical trial.
You do have another option: You can talk to your health care provider about taking antiviral drugs prophylactically, or before you get sick. During the 2006-2007 flu season the CDC recommends oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) for preventing and treating the flu. If you've been around someone who has the flu, ask your health care provider for a prescription of antiviral medication and begin taking the medication within 48 hours of exposure, even before any symptoms appear. There is a 70 to 90 percent chance the drugs will keep you from getting sick.
Note: There are four antiviral medications that are approved for preventing and treating the flu: amantadine (Symmetrel), rimantadine (Flumadine), zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Your health care provider won't prescribe amantadine and rimantadine because the influenza A virus has shown resistance to both antivirals during the 2006-2007 flu season, and the CDC recommends that they not be prescribed to treat influenza A at this time.
(c)2006 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.