Here's why you must give your child the flu vaccine every year…

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Mums, did you know that the influenza virus keeps changing and that children are at a higher risk of contracting flu? Here’s how you can help your child stay away from this dreadful virus…

The greatest concern that any mother would have is the well-being of her child. And most mums have health-related concerns topping their priority list. One such infection that children can contract is influenza, which steals the joy from their lives as long as it stays. But all it takes to keep them safe is a flu vaccine shot every year.

Naturally, mums don’t want this virus to come anywhere near their lovely angels. To do this, we need to get a better understanding of this virus, its spread and preventive measures.

Mums, here’s more about influenza...

Influenza, is a virus that causes a contagious respiratory infection. It is called the flu, for short. Easily transmitted from one person to another, it spreads quickly during seasonal epidemics and can last for around one week.

There are many types and subtypes of the influenza virus. Moreover, the virus is constantly changing. It affects humans and animals such as birds, pigs and horses.

How to identify the influenza infection

Medical tests must be done in the initial few days to identify the infection before it worsens.

Although it is quite different from the common cold, both, common cold and influenza, show similar symptoms. Hence it becomes difficult to tell the difference. However, the symptoms of flu are more intense and the infected person usually runs a high temperature.

The most common flu symptoms are high fever, body pain, headache, severe malaise, dry cough, sore throat, and fatigue. Diarrhea or vomiting is a common symptom in children.

Some of the signs in children that indicate an emergency situation caused by the flu are, problems in breathing or rapid breathing, skin colour turning bluish, aversion for fluid intake, fever with rash, irritability, inability to wake up or interact. At times the symptoms of flu may show the signs of improvement. However, they may return with fever and cough, making it worse. In case of infants and babies some major flu signs are aversion for food, breathing problems, tearless crying and less number of wet diapers than what is normal.

How does the virus spread?

The virus spreads through droplets that are formed when infected people cough, sneeze or talk as these droplets can get transmitted into the mouths or noses of other people around. In rare cases, the virus transfers through touch, when a person’s skin comes in contact with the flu virus. It then spreads to their mouth, eyes or nose.

Influenza can spread right from day one. This means that you can pass on the infection to someone else even before you know that you are infected.

The infection might worsen in some cases, leading to complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections.

Who is at risk?

The population that is at a higher risk of suffering from influenza includes young children, pregnant women, older people and those with chronic medical conditions and compromised immunity. It can lead to serious complications requiring hospitalisation and even death in some cases.

Children below the age of five years are at risk, especially children under two years. Babies below the age of six months are at highest risk as they cannot be vaccinated. Hence, it is best to be extra careful with babies and children in this age group.

Children having medical conditions such as asthma, HIV/AIDS or neurologic conditions are also at higher risk. Pregnant women are highly susceptible to contracting this infection, and it can affect the development of their baby.

Influenza hits more than just the body...

Mums, the flu affects the day-to-day activities of your children because it makes them physically weak. It may also affect their emotions to the extent that you may need to take a day off from work to take care of them.

Furthermore, you need to keep affected children away from healthy people. This isolation might make children agitated or irritated.

In short, there is a large impact on a child’s play, his studies and his interaction with friends and family when he suffers from flu.

The flu vaccine: how to keep influenza at bay

Personal hygiene is extremely important in keeping this virus away from your child. Health Promotion Board of Singapore has come up with the FIGHT campaign to encourage citizens to practise simple personal hygiene routines. Here's what F.I.G.H.T. stands for...

  • Frequent hand washing: The ‘F’ stands for frequency of washing your hands. So a hand-wash before eating, after using the toilet, after coming home from outside, after visiting your ailing friends and so on, is a must.
  • Immunisation: Regular vaccinations, ideally, every year, is what the ‘I’ signifies. Mums, this is important because the influenza virus keeps changing. A flu vaccine that your child got last season might not suffice to combat the evolved virus of this season. So an annual vaccination is of utmost importance, specially in case of children.
  • Go to the doctor early: Since the flu is often confused with the common cold, it is crucial that you visit a doctor in time for treatment. ‘G’ urges the parents to not ignore that stuffy nose and get a doctor’s appointment as early as possible.
  • Home rest: The ‘H’ is all about giving your child some rest at home. This is not only for recuperation but also to prevent him or her from transferring the infection to others.
  • Tissues and masks usage: Parents must encourage their children to use tissues when sneezing or coughing. They may also wear masks. This helps in preventing the spread of virus to other people in the house.

Why is it necessary to get the flu vaccine every year?

A study by HPB shows that over fifty percent of parents with children less than 12 years old who were surveyed, followed regular hand-washing, encouraged the child to stay at home, covered their mouths and noses and saw a doctor when unwell. However, an alarmingly low number of parents went for annual immunisations, which can be said to be the best and most effective method in keeping influenza away.

Mums, not only children, but even adults need to go for an annual flu vaccine. They are also susceptible to the infection and can easily transfer the same to the children around them.

It is important to take a jab every year. Over time, the immunity from the vaccination declines. Apart from that, the virus is constantly changing. Hence the vaccine formulation is reviewed each year. At times it is also updated to cope with the evolving viruses.

The two ways in which the virus changes are the "antigenic drift" and an "antigenic shift." The antigenic drift, that happens more often, is when the virus genetically modifies. An annual flu vaccine shot helps you combat the antigenic drift. The best example of an antigenic shift is the recent emergence of H1N1 virus in 2009. This type of change happens once in awhile.

So Mums, considering the severe implications of this infection, whether your child is showing the symptoms of flu or not, when above six months old, immunise your child every year.

Visit the fightthespread.sg campaign page to learn more.