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 wellbeing of her child and most mums have health related concerns topping their priority list. One such dreadful infection that young children can contract is influenza, which steals the joy from their lives as long as it stays.
Naturally, mums don’t want this infamous virus to come anywhere near their lovely angels, and for that, we need to get better understanding about various aspects of this virus, its spread and preventive measures.
Mums, here’s more about influenza..
Influenza, is a virus that causes a contagious respiratory infection, also by the name, influenza or 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 and affects humans, birds and animals such as 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 and 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 common flu symptoms are high fever or feverish feeling, aching muscles or body pain, headache, severe malaise, dry cough, sore throat, fatigue and tiredness. 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 can also be transferred through touch, when a person’s skin comes in contact with the flu virus and then it spreads through their own mouth, eyes or nose.
Influenza can spread right from day 1 after it enters a body and 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 people with chronic medical conditions causing 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 ones within the age of 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.
Apart from this, 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 to carry out any activities, and may also affect their emotion to the extent that you may need to take a day off from work to take care of them.
Furthermore, the affected individual needs to be kept away from other healthy people who can easily contract the virus from them. This might make children agitated or irritated.
In short, a child’s play, studies and his interaction with friends and family gets impacted when suffering from flu.
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 and not avoiding it even once after coming in contact with anything that can pass on the virus to you. 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, the importance of this cannot be emphasised enough as the influenza virus keeps changing and a jab that your child got last flu 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 can be confused for common cold making it difficult to identify the infection, visiting a doctor in time for treatment is crucial. ‘G’ urges the parents to not ignore that stuffy nose as common cold and get the doctor’s appointment at earliest.
- Home rest: The ‘H’ talks about giving your child some rest at home itself 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 or wear masks. This helps in preventing the spread of virus to other people in the house.
A study by HPB shows that over fifty percent 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.
Why is it necessary to get an influenza vaccination every year?
Mums, not only children, but even adults need to go for an annual flu vaccination as 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, as over a period, the immunity from the vaccination declines. Apart from that the virus is constantly changing and 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 vaccination 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 every child needs to get immunised every year.
Visit the fightthespread.sg campaign page to learn more.