By: Gayathri Loka
December 8 2022
Nasal sprays for the flu are safe to administer to children and are not connected to strep. The claim stems from an anti-vaccine narrative.
On December 2, 2022, the U.K. Health Security Agency published an analysis that discussed a spike in Group A Streptococcus A infections, known as strep. The UKHSA reported five deaths under the age of 10 had been recorded within seven days (the number since then has risen to eight children in England and Wales and one in Northern Ireland). The last spike in cases was seen from 2017-2018, when four children died within a week. The UKHSA said investigations are still ongoing to understand the surge of strep A infections in children over the past few weeks, which have caused severe illness.
On November 14, 2022, before the surge of strep A cases was observed, the NHS had urged parents to vaccinate two and three-year-old children against the flu. Vaccines for the flu are usually administered in schools annually between September and December.
Recent social media posts claim that nasal sprays administered in November for the flu are causing strep A in primary-aged children. These claims stem from anti-vaccine narratives, which argue that vaccines are fatal, ineffective, and should not be administered to children. Similar claims have previously been debunked as false and misleading by many credible medical and media organizations.
The NHS explains that Group A Streptococcus (strep A) is a type of bacteria sometimes found in the throat or on the skin. It is usually transmitted through physical contact and can cause various illnesses of the nose, throat, and lungs. In very rare circumstances, strep A can cause a severe life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, strep A is most common in school-age children. Strep A is usually treated with antibiotics. "Testing for strep throat isn't usually recommended in children younger than age 3, as the infection doesn't occur often in this age group," Mayo Clinic said.
On December 6, the BBC reported that the number of child deaths due to strep increased to eight children. Sky News quoted the UKHSA stating, "The increase is most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing." Neither government nor media reports have suggested that these deaths were due to flu nasal sprays.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine, commonly known as the nasal spray flu vaccine, is used to counter four flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses. The NHS explains that the sprays are squirted into the nose, which does not cause any pain.
It should be noted that strep A is a bacterial infection, while nasal spray flu vaccines are meant to prevent viral infections. This is done by using small amounts of weakened flu viruses, not bacteria.
Speaking to fact-checking organization Full Fact, Dr Peter English, a former chair of the British Medical Association's public health medicine committee, said there was "absolutely no plausibility to this claim." He also argued that a flu infection increases the chance of subsequently contracting bacterial infections; "If anything, getting protected against flu is likely to decrease the risk of streptococcal infections."
According to the NHS, side effects of the spray are a runny nose, headache, and fatigue. The NHS also recommends that children be vaccinated against the flu to prevent infection and curb the virus's spread. No credible medical organization suggests that these sprays are fatal; instead, they recommend children take these sprays/vaccines to help fight the flu virus.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in anti-vaccine narratives which claim vaccines are fatal and ineffective. Logically and other fact-checking organizations have debunked similar claims.
Strep A can be life-threatening in very rare circumstances. Nasal sprays flu vaccines are administered to counter various flu viruses and cannot cause strep, which is a bacterial infection. It is recommended by many medical organizations for children to receive a flu spray to help counter the virus. We, therefore, mark this claim as false.