ANNAPOLIS – A nasal spray for the needle adverse may soon alleviate their flu suffering.
Tests show that a nasal spray vaccine called FluMist, developed by a California pharmaceutical company, is effective, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The drug could be approved and available in two years.
“As long as it’s safe and effective, we are ready,” said Jeff Roche, an epidemiologist at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Children are a particularly difficult group to immunize, since they tend to be afraid of needles. FluMist eliminates the need for a painful shot, and may encourage more parents to get the vaccine for their children, Roche said.
Not enough children are getting the flu vaccine, according to Aviron, the maker of FluMist. Less than 1 percent of healthy children are routinely vaccinated, the company said. The spray will “offer the first practical way to immunize children on a large scale,” without a shot, according to information on the company’s website.
None of the children receiving FluMist during the 1997-98 flu season developed the three types of flu the vaccine was specifically designed to prevent, according to research by the institute, a division of the Bethesda- based National Institutes of Health.
More than 1,300 children between 2 and 7 years old were given either the vaccine or a placebo for two years. The University of Maryland in Baltimore conducted one of the 10 nationwide studies. In the second year, just 71 children caught the flu, 56 of them in the placebo group.
The most promising finding of the study was how well the nasal vaccine performed against an unexpected strain. Both the spray and shot vaccines are adapted each year to fight new types of viruses. The “A/Sydney” virus, a strain the vaccine was not designed to prevent, caused the 15 flu cases found in the group taking FluMist. Those cases were milder than those in the placebo group.
The spray also is much easier to administer and should be welcomed by doctors and nurses, according to Greg Reed, an immunization officer for the state health department.
The flu is a virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs and lasts about a week.
Symptoms include sore throat, congestion, fevers, muscle aches and fatigue. Yet, influenza kills 20,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children are particularly important to immunize because they are more likely to pass the virus through hand-to-hand contact or by coughing or sneezing.
This year’s flu season has been particularly hard for Maryland. The DHMH reported a marked increase in flu symptoms. Some hospitals were forced to turn away non-life-threatening cases, because their emergency rooms were full.
A/Sydney was again the major virus circulating during the 1999-2000 season.
Aviron is expected to submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration for review. If approved, the drug could be on the market by 2002, according to Linda Lambert, influenza program officer at the allergy institute.
There is no study to determine whether the nasal spray is more effective than the flu shot. However, Lambert said, “we would like to do that study.”