Monsoons are here, and in this season, children are vulnerable to infections.
Indian Paediatricians are recommending timely vaccination shots for children before or during the monsoon season, to protect them against Influenza/flu (1).
This Influenza/flu shot is aimed at boosting innate immunity (the first line of defense in the body) in children. It will also prevent Influenza/flu in children and minimise the need for hospitalisation and medical resources. This will further prevent panic among parents, who could be worried due to overlap in the symptoms of Influenza/flu and COVID-19.
The confusion between seasonal Influenza/flu and COVID-19 is understandable, as they share some common symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and sore throat. However, these infections are caused by different viruses and hence, the vaccine compositions are also very different.
It is important to remember that getting your child vaccinated for Influenza/flu does not mean protection against the novel Coronavirus; nonetheless, the shot for Influenza/flu may reduce the severity of COVID-19 infection if your child contracts the infection (2).
What is Influenza/flu and why is vaccination recommended by Paediatricians against it? Read on to find out!
What is Influenza/flu?
Seasonal Influenza, commonly called flu, is a contagious infection caused by the influenza viruses, which attack the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). Influenza viruses A, B, and rarely C affect humans primarily (3).
Who is at a Higher Risk of Developing Complications From Influenza/flu?
Seasonal Influenza/flu affects children and adults. However, young children (between six months and five years of age), pregnant women, the elderly, healthcare workers, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic (long-term) health conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes, and asthma are considered at higher risk of developing complications from Influenza/flu (4).
It is one of the most common respiratory illnesses in children. Most children may feel better within a week but others may have a serious infection that could lead to pneumonia (lung infection). Such severe cases may require hospitalisation and even be fatal at times (5).
Studies show that in India alone, Influenza/flu accounts for about 1 lakh hospitalisations in children under 5 years of age, every year (6).
What Are Its Symptoms?
The most common symptoms of seasonal Influenza/flu in children are:
Loss of appetite
Vomiting and diarrhoea
It is important to note that the flu may have different symptoms when compared to the common cold, and may be more severe as well (5).
How Does it Spread?
The virus spreads through respiratory droplets, when a person with Influenza/flu coughs, sneezes or talks. It may also spread due to someone touching the droplets on a person or surfaces, then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes without washing hands. Further, it can also be passed through shared eating and drinking utensils (5).
The droplets released in the air can spread up to about 6 feet and reach others who are in the vicinity. Young children or those with a weakened immune system may have a prolonged infection and can infect others for a longer time (7).
How Can it be Prevented?
Taking simple and effective preventive actions can help stop the spread of infection. These steps include:
- Teaching your child to cover their mouth and nose when coughing/sneezing.
- Asking your child to wash hands thoroughly and regularly and using sanitisers when soap and water are not available.
- Advising your child to maintain a safe distance from and avoiding direct contact with those who are infected.
- Ensuring that your child wears a mask, especially in public spaces.
- Cleaning commonly touched surfaces in the house.
- Annual Influenza/flu vaccination for your child (5).
Annual vaccination is one of the most effective ways to help protect against Influenza/flu (4).
The viruses causing Influenza/flu are constantly changing and new strains appear regularly. Every Influenza/flu season, new virus strains are found to be circulating.
Each year, these new circulating viruses are identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) before the Influenza/flu season and included in the new lot of vaccines for the particular season to offer the best protection for that year (4).
Thus, the Influenza/flu shot is needed every year, even if your child has antibodies (proteins produced by the immune system to fight foreign agents) to a previous strain of the virus. Annual vaccination can help reduce the severity of infection if the child contracts it (8).
Global and Indian health authorities strongly recommend annual Influenza/flu vaccination for children from 6 months to 5 years of age.
Getting vaccinated against Influenza/flu annually not only helps in boosting the immunity of your child but aids in curbing further transmission of the infection as well (9).
Consult your Paediatrician for more information about Influenza/flu and its prevention.
1. Acvip.org. 2021. IAP | ACVIP. [online] Available at: <https://acvip.org/professional/columns/influenza-vaccine> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
2. Patwardhan, A. and Ohler, A., 2021. The Flu Vaccination May Have a Protective Effect on the Course of COVID-19 in the Pediatric Population: When Does Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Meet Influenza?. Cureus,.
3. Who.int. 2021. Influenza (Seasonal). [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal)> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
4. Euro.who.int. 2021. Seasonal influenza FAQ. [online] Available at: <https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/communicable-diseases/influenza/seasonal-influenza/seasonal-influenza-faq#401187> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
5. 2021. Influenza (Flu) in Children. [online] Available at: <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/influenza/influenza-flu-in-children> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
6. Ram Purakayastha, D., Vishnubhatla, S., Rai, S., Broor, S. and Krishnan, A., 2017. Estimation of Burden of Influenza among under-Five Children in India: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, 64(5), pp.441-453.
7. Lung.org. 2021. Flu Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors. [online] Available at: <https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/influenza/symptoms-causes-and-risk> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
8. Cdc.gov. 2021. Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work? | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
9. Vdh.virginia.gov. 2021. Influenza Vaccination: Prevent the Flu with Vaccination – Epidemiology. [online] Available at: <https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/influenza-flu-in-virginia/influenza-vaccination-prevent-the-flu-with-vaccination/> [Accessed 9 July 2021].
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