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Nasal spray vs. shot: Which vaccine is best for you?

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For decades we only had one type of flu vaccine, but today we have a choice: the traditional flu shot or the newer nasal spray flu vaccine, FluMist.

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Either vaccine will help protect against the flu virus, but some people are better suited for the flu shot, while others will do better with the nasal spray. The important thing to remember is they both offer the same level of protection against the flu. The most significant differences are in how the vaccines are given and who is eligible to get them.

Let's start with the flu shot.

This vaccine is given by injection, usually into the muscle of the upper arm. This type of vaccine has been around for many years and is most commonly used in Douglas County.

Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot is made from dead influenza virus and cannot give you the flu. That said, there can be side effects from the flu shot, although minor. The most frequent side effect is soreness at the injection site. Less commonly, symptoms may include mild fever and achiness. They may last one to two days.

The flu shot is not safe for everyone. If you fit any of the following categories you should not get the shot.

• Anyone with a history of a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous flu vaccine.

• Anyone who previously developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting flu vaccine.

• Children younger than 6 months old.

• People who have an illness with a fever should delay getting the flu shot until their symptoms lessen.

What about the nasal spray? FluMist is sprayed directly into the nose. While it is a live vaccine, the virus has been weakened so that it cannot cause the flu. Some people, however, may experience mild flu-like symptoms.

The side effects of FluMist are 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.

The nasal vaccine can be used for anyone between ages 2 and 49 who is generally healthy and not pregnant.

The nasal vaccine should not be used for:

• Children younger than 2 years.

• Children younger than 5 who have a history of wheezing.

• Children or adolescents who are taking aspirin.

• Adults 50 years or older.

• Adults who have heart disease, lung disease (like asthma), diabetes, kidney disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome, or an immune system weakened by disease or by its treatment.

• 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.

If you have any questions about which flu vaccine you or your child should use, talk to your doctor.

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