FDA approves first influenza vaccine that protects against 4 strains

A student at Carlin Springs Elementary School receives an H1N1 flu vaccination January 7, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The US Centers for Disease Control reported in December that at least 60 million people in the US have been vaccinated against swine flu, with children being twice as likely as adults to have been innoculated. Some 100 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are now available to the public in the US. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN
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(CBS/AP)The first flu vaccine of its kind that protects against four influenza strains has been approved by the FDA, the agency announced this week.

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The FluMist Quadrivalent vaccine from AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit protects against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B, and is approved for people ages 2 to 49. Similar to the previously approved FluMist, the new vaccine is a nasal spray that delivers weakened strains of the virus.

Previously, all flu vaccines contained two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B, chosen annually by medical experts based on their potential to spread the virus. Having an extra strain of influenza B increases the likelihood that the vaccine will protect against illness, the FDA said in a statement.

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"Illness caused by Influenza B virus affects children, particularly young and school-aged, more than any other population," said Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's biologics center.

The severity of illness and death due to influenza varies widely from season to season, which is why vaccination is the best method of protection, according to the FDA. Between 1976 and 2007, flu-related deaths have ranged from an estimated low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people, the agency said.

Are there side effects? The FDA says side effects are the same as the older FluMist and include runny or stuffy nose, headaches, and sore throats.

Besides the flu vaccine, there are everyday actions a person can take to reduce their risk, according to the CDC. Those actions include washing your hands with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth (this is how germs spread), and avoid close contact with sick people. If you're sick with a flu-like virus, stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone.