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What is Influenza (Flu) in Children?

by on 25/11/2021 3109

What is flu?

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illnesses, and at times can be fatal if it is severe. This can be prevented in current era and the best way to do it is by getting a flu vaccine or influenza vaccine every year.

The flu virus spreads quickly from person to person, especially at crowded areas where people live, work, study or places of leisure at close proximity. Children are most likely to be infected and become the major spreaders of influenza. So why is the paediatrics group susceptible? Influenza viruses are found in the nose and throat. Children touch their nose, eyes as well as the mouth often and they have the tendency to put things in their mouth. Therefore, often during play, close contact among them allows the flu germs to transmit very easily. Similar form of contact also exists between the children and their parents or caregivers, such as holding hands, parents carrying the children, feeding them, changing their diapers and so forth.

Symptoms of influenza

The usual symptom of an influenza infection is fever or feeling feverish/chills. Some infections come with cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle or body aches. There are even cases reported with symptoms of headache, fatigue (tiredness) while some may experience vomiting and diarrhoea… though these are more common in children compared to adults. It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Vaccination as an effective prevention

Vaccination has shown many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children. Flu vaccines develop antibodies in the body approximately after two weeks’ vaccination. These antibodies protect against infection from circulating influenza viruses.

Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect against the influenza viruses whereby research indicates its usefulness in upcoming season. Mostly, flu vaccines in Malaysia and other countries are “quadrivalent” vaccine, which means they protect against four different flu viruses namely, influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses. It is highly recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ‘CDC’ and approved for use in Malaysia.

Everyone above 6 months of age and older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every season with rare exception. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has made this recommendation since the 2010-2011 influenza seasons. Vaccination to prevent flu and its’ potentially serious complications are extremely important for people who are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications.

The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has caused a global pandemic which led to nearly three million deaths globally. Before the COVID-19 vaccines were developed, some evidence suggested that an influenza vaccine may stimulate non-specific immune responses that reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection or the severity of COVID-19 illness after infection. Many studies have been conducted on this and even though the influenza vaccine may only marginally protect people from COVID-19 infection, it remains an important aspect to receive an influenza vaccination to reduce the risk of a co-infection of influenza and COVID19.

This vaccine is not in our routine vaccination schedule under Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia ‘KKM’ for paediatrics group; however, it is available at many medical centres. The lack of awareness in parents has led to many infections among children and its infection rate. Despite such a global success and the proven impact on human health and life expectancy, vaccines are still under-utilized.

Let’s take it from here to prevent something that can be prevented. Giving your child the best health is the most beautiful gift of love that you can provide to your little one. Get your child vaccinated today.

Attributed to Dr. Shobana Supramaniam, Head of Wellness Centre, KPJ Klang Specialist Hospital.