Worried about a flu shot reaction? Evaluate risk factors

Worried about a flu shot reaction? Evaluate risk factors

"Last year, I reacted to the flu shot and broke out in hives. Is it safe for me to get the flu shot again this year?"Mary L., South Bend, Ind.

Influenza season often peaks in January, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated to protect themselves against the virus, which attacks your respiratory system.

Although the flu kills about 23,600 people in the U.S. each year, the vaccine itself can create serious complications in some people.

Components of the flu vaccine can cause an allergic reaction, also known as an immediate hypersensitivity reaction, says Dr. Laura Johnson, associate director of infection control and senior staff physician for the Division of Infectious Diseases at the highly rated Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

"For instance, there is a very small amount of egg protein in the influenza vaccine that could possibly trigger an allergic reaction in people who have severe egg allergies," Johnson says.

Symptoms can range from a mild outbreak, such as hives, to a severe allergic reaction that could include shock, rapid or weak pulse, breathing problems, a skin rash, nausea and vomiting. Anyone who has had a previous reaction to the vaccine should visit an allergist for skin testing.

"Skin testing can sometimes clarify if it's safe to receive the vaccine again," Johnson says. Talk to your primary care doctor about whether you should get a flu shot again this year.

"The decision should take into account your risk factors for complications of influenza illness, your previous allergic reaction and the skin testing results," Johnson says.


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