Although a similar respiratory illness, influenza (flu) is a very different and indeed a more serious condition than the common cold. Dr Alexandrou, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital, explains how you can help protect your child from flu with the flu vaccine.
What are the symptoms of flu and how does it differ from the common cold?
Flu is a seasonal illness that can affect previously healthy children and give rise to serious complications such as ear infections and pneumonia. Typical flu symptoms can include sudden fever, a sore throat, having a runny nose, a dry cough, headaches, tiredness, aching muscles and experiencing chills. In comparison the common cold tends to affect only the nose and throat and symptoms include having a cough, a runny nose and a sore throat.
How likely is my child to be exposed to the flu virus?
Statistically, your child is a lot less likely to contract flu than they are the common cold. This is because there are around 200 viruses that cause colds and just three that cause flu. However, because the flu virus can mutate into different strains it can repeatedly invade and indeed evade the immune system, thus causing us to be susceptible to flu throughout our lives.
The good news is that annual flu epidemics are predictable and the annual flu immunisations contain a mild form of the strains of the virus that is expected to cause the flu that year.
Does flu affect young children and teenagers differently?
Flu is common among children but because of their lack of prior exposure and immunity to the virus it is young children who are particularly at risk of hospitalisation and complications. Severe flu complications are most common in children younger than 2 years old and can include ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis.
How can I protect my child from flu this winter?
The best way to protect your children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year. There are two kinds of flu vaccines available for children. The injectable flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine that contains ‘dead’ flu viruses. This is offered to children aged 6 months to 2 years who are at risk of contracting flu.The nasal spray is approved for children older than 2 years. Both vaccines need to be administered in two doses if the child is previously unvaccinated.
Children younger than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated. The best way to protect them is to make sure people around them who are vulnerable to flu, e.g. elderly relatives, are vaccinated. The risk of infants younger than 6 months contracting flu can also be reduced if their mother has the recommended vaccine in the second or third trimester of their pregnancy.
Is my child eligible for the flu vaccine?
Annual immunisation with flu vaccine is recommended for any child older than 6 months of age and particularly those with underlying medical conditions. Children younger than 6 months, those with moderate-to-severe febrile illness and a history of hypersensitivity or anaphylaxis to any previous influenza vaccine should not be immunised with either vaccine. As the nasal vaccine contains traces of egg, if your child has an egg allergy and you wish them to be vaccinated against seasonal flu, you should discuss this their GP and may wish to have the low egg vaccine administered under supervision in hospital
The nasal vaccine is also not licensed for children younger than 2 years, asthmatic children or children younger than 5 who have recurrent wheezing. It also should not be administered to children who have received other live vaccines within the last 4 weeks or children who have asthma, chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, diabetes, renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies, immunodeficiency disease or who are receiving immunosuppressive therapies.
What is the success rate of the flu vaccine?
The effectiveness of flu vaccines varies from person to person and depends primarily on the age of the child and the degree of similarity between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation in the population. Because the nasal spray is a live vaccine, the immune response is more likely to achieve a level of immunity that would be induced by natural infection.
Are there any risks associated with the vaccine?
Common side effects of the injectable vaccine are local skin reactions and fever. For the spray vaccine, fever and a stuffy nose are usually reported after the first dose. The most serious side effect that can occur after receiving the influenza vaccination is an allergic reaction in people who have a severe allergy to eggs.
If we have recently moved to the UK from another country and my child had the flu jab back at home do they need another flu jab in the UK?
No. The flu viruses in circulation in humans are the same in the northern and southern hemispheres according to season.
Where can I get my child immunised from flu this winter?
At The Portland Hospital’s paediatric day case unit we offer the flu vaccine to children over the age of 6 months at ourweekly nurse led vaccination clinics. Once you have booked your appointment your child will be seen by a paediatric nurse who will assess their suitability for the vaccine. The vaccine costs £60 for an intramuscular injection and £45 for the nasal spray. Appointments can be made by telephoning 0207 390 8020 and asking for an appointment for the vaccination clinic.
For more information please visit The Portland Hospital websitehttp://www.theportlandhospital.com/children/specialties/flu-vaccine-clinic/ and to arrange a consultation appointment with Dr Alexandrou at the Portland Hospital please call 0208 9707442 or email :firstname.lastname@example.org
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.