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Flu Shot or Nasal Spray?

The Nasal Flu Vaccine (FluMist)

This flu vaccine is sprayed into the nose. While it is a live vaccine, the virus is weak and can't cause the flu. Still, you may have flu-like symptoms.

Side effects: Usually minor, although they can be more severe than the side effects of the flu shot. In adults, side effects include runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. In children, side effects also include wheezing, vomiting, fever, and muscle aches.

Who can get the spray:

  • Anyone between the ages of 2 and 49 who is generally healthy and not pregnant
  • The CDC now recommends the nasal spray vaccine for healthy children 2 through 8 years old when it is available.

Who shouldn't get the spray:

  • Children under 2 years old
  • Children or adolescents who are taking aspirin
  • Adults 50 or older
  • Children or adults who have heart disease, lung disease (like asthma), diabetes, kidney disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome, or a weakened immune system
  • Anyone with a history of a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous flu vaccine
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are in contact with someone who has an immune system severely weakened by treatment, such as a stem cell transplant. It is safe to get this vaccine if you're in contact with people who have less severely suppressed immune systems, like those with diabetes or HIV.

Pros: The nasal spray is easy to take. Children (and many adults) might prefer it to getting a shot. Also, there's evidence that in young children ages 2 to 8, FluMist might offer somewhat better protection against the flu than the traditional shot.

Cons: There are more restrictions on who can get FluMist. Also, some research shows it may be less effective in the elderly than the flu shot.

If you have any questions about which flu vaccine you or your child should use, talk to your doctor. He'll be able to guide you.

Who Needs to Be Vaccinated Against the Flu?

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get immunized against the flu, unless there's a medical reason not to. Why catch the flu and risk complications if you can avoid it?

The CDC says some people must get vaccinated. This includes people who are at high risk or are in contact with those who are, including:

  • Children between 6 months and 18 years old
  • Children on long-term aspirin therapy, who are at higher risk of Reye's syndrome (a condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain) after getting the flu
  • Women who will be pregnant during flu season
  • Adults 50 and older
  • Adults and children with diseases of the lungs (like asthma), heart, kidneys, liver, blood, or metabolism (like diabetes)
  • Adults and children with weakened immune systems
  • People who live in nursing homes or care facilities
  • People who live with a person at high risk of flu complications
  • Caregivers of children under 6 months
  • Health care workers

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on September 18, 2014
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