August 15, 2016 4:01 pm

Flu shot or nasal spray? They’re nearly identical in protection, Canadian study suggests

File photo: In this Oct. 4, 2005 file photo, a Danielle Holland reacts as she is given a FluMist influenza vaccination in St. Leonard, Md.

AP Photo/Chris Gardner, File
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Nasal spray or flu shot? A new Canadian study suggests the nasal flu mist is just as good at getting the job done as the flu shot.

But the findings come just weeks after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told front-line health care workers to stop using the nasal spray in the upcoming flu season because of “poor” or “lower effectiveness.”

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“We found that the [flu mist] is exactly the same. They’re almost identical in levels of protection,” Dr. Mark Loeb, an infectious diseases physician and medical microbiologist at McMaster University, told Global News.

“They’re very, very similar. [Our findings] are better than what the CDC is reporting,” he said.

Loeb is the lead researcher of the timely Canadian study. For the past eight years, he’s studied the effectiveness of vaccines by working with Hutterite colonies around Alberta and Saskatchewan where people live communally and are relatively isolated from cities and towns.

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Years ago, he looked at how vaccinated kids offered protection to their parents. Loeb and his team gave some kids the flu vaccine while others got the hepatitis A vaccine. The experiment was a double blind test, which means neither the researchers nor the study participants knew who was part of the test group and who was part of the control group.

Turns out, kids who got the flu shot offered their parents who hadn’t been vaccinated 60 per cent protection.

During the past few flu seasons from 2014 to 2016, Loeb took it to the next step.

In another double-blind experiment with 1,186 kids from 52 Hutterite colonies, Loeb gave kids either the nasal spray or the flu shot to see which was more effective. (The kids who got the flu shot received a placebo nasal spray and vice-versa.)

Another 3,425 people from the communities were followed, too, to monitor their health.

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Ultimately, Loeb found “little to differentiate between the two vaccines.”

“The one important thing is we have more work to do to find out what the discrepancy is between our findings and the findings in the U.S.,” he told Global News.

The flu mist is relatively new in Canada but has been used widely in the U.S. and Europe. Just like the flu shot, it contains protection against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B.

The flu mist is called live attenuated influenza vaccine because it contains the virus that goes into your nose and replicates.

“It gives people a little flu infection but doesn’t make you so sick, so it protects you in that way,” Loeb explained.

The flu vaccine, on the other hand, relies on antibodies to develop in the body to fight the viruses in the vaccine.

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It’s been tricky for health officials in the U.S. to take a stance on the nasal spray. Just years ago, health officials preferred the nasal spray over the flu shot. After that, they said they had no preference.

But in June, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted against the nasal spray altogether, suggesting that it “should not” be used in the 2016-17 flu season, especially for young kids.

Loeb shared his findings with his U.S. counterparts and the World Health Organization. He said his next steps are to look at how the flu shot and nasal spray work inside the body.

Loeb’s full findings were published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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