MONDAY, Dec. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A common sight at the pediatrician's office is that of a baby wailing and a parent wincing as the infant receives a vaccination, but a new gel may cut down on the number of those gut-wrenching moments.

The good news is that the gel, Ametop, significantly reduces the pain babies experience when getting these shots. The bad news is that it's not available in the United States.

Ametop gel contains 4 percent of the anesthetic amethocaine. When it is applied to the skin 30 minutes before a shot is given, there is a significant reduction in the pain that infants feel when getting vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), according to a report in the December issue of Pediatrics.

"There is a now a simple cream that can take away the needle pain from your kids," said lead researcher Dr. Gideon Koren, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at the University of Toronto.

Koren's team used the cream in a study of 120 infants who were getting the MMR vaccination. Sixty of the infants were treated with Ametop 30 minutes before being vaccinated, and the remaining children received a dummy gel. The researchers videotaped the children as they were vaccinated.

Babies who received Ametop experienced significantly less pain while being vaccinated compared with children who were given the dummy gel, the researchers found.

"Getting a shot is the most common source of pain for healthy children," Koren said. "There is increasing evidence that repeated pain is conditioning us."

Koren noted that many adults hate needles, a fear often developed in childhood from the pain associated with getting vaccinations at the doctor's office. "There are many adults that chicken out and will not get flu shots or other shots even if they need them," he said.

In addition, other studies have shown that parents prefer that their children not have pain when getting shots, he noted. "Many parents will tell you that the child seemed happy with the doctor, but become hysterical after receiving the first shot, and they don't want to go to the doctor anymore," Koren said.

Koren believes that this anesthetic gel should be offered for all shots. Unlike other topical anesthetics, this gel acts quickly, making its use practical, he added.

"In principle, it's a good idea," said David Neumann, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization. "There are comparable products available in the U.S. But there is some reluctance to use them because of the waiting time for the anesthetic to become effective, which prevents it from being used as much as some would like to see it used."

Neumann believes that topical anesthetics are underused in children. "If it gives parents or providers the sense that the child is suffering less, its use should not be discouraged," he said. "We probably should be looking for ways to use it more often if it makes it easier for parents to get their children immunized."

Currently, Ametop is available in several countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Angela Craig, a spokeswomen for Smith & Nephew Ltd., the anesthetic's maker, said it had no plans to seek FDA approval for Ametop. According to Craig, Ametop represents only a small part of its product line and is not a part of their market the company is interested in expanding.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on vaccinations.

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