The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. You’re probably fighting a losing battle to get your toddler to wear a jumper.
Winter is almost here and while there’s plenty of good stuff about scarf season, there’s also the increased risk of a whole bunch of nasties.
Influenza – or the flu – is one of those nasties. And we’re not talking your standard cold that has you reaching for the extra-soft tissues.
Influenza, while it can share symptoms with the common cold, is a completely different beast (and one you probably don’t want to get acquainted with). While a cold might knock you around for a couple of days, the flu knocks you for a six for weeks. And there’s a whole bunch of other complications too.
The flu. Not just a sniffle
Think the flu isn’t THAT big a deal? Think again. Of all vaccine preventable diseases, influenza is the leading cause of hospitalisation among Australian children under five.
Influenza causes serious illness in children, with nearly 1,500 Australian children admitted to hospital for flu each year. During the 2017 flu season, children younger than 15 accounted for 27% of all influenza cases – and, horribly enough, five kids died as a result of catching the virus.
The flu, clearly, isn’t something to be trifled with, which is why the influenza vaccine was developed. We spoke to Kim Sampson, CEO of the Immunisation Coalition, to get the lowdown on the flu shot.
Everything Parents Need To Know About the Flu Shot
Q: My kids are super healthy without any existing issues. Do they really need the flu shot?
A: Children are much more likely to contract influenza. Up to 70% of children will contract the virus during pandemic years, according to the Immunisation Coalition. “Not only are influenza infection rates generally highest among children, children also contribute greatly to transmission of influenza in the community”, says Kim. The best way to reduce the risk of catching the flu? Vaccination.
If your children happen to have other health issues, like heart conditions, asthma, diabetes, kidney problems or impaired immunity, it is even more important to speak to your family doctor about vaccinating. This is because they are at a higher risk of complications from contracting the flu.
Q: My kids have good personal hygiene and know they need to wash their hands/cover their mouths etc. Won’t that help prevent them catching anything?
A: Kind of, but not really. Hand washing and good personal hygiene are important preventative measures. But if you’ve ever met a toddler, you’ll know they’re hit and miss, especially when distracted. While avoiding large groups of people during influenza season can minimise risk, this is impossible when your child attends daycare, preschool or school.
Q: Is the flu shot safe for babies and young children?
“The flu vaccine has been tested and is safe for children six months or older,” says Kim. Back in 2010, there was a temporary suspension of the vaccine by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, after some children experienced adverse reactions. That particular brand of vaccination was withdrawn from use. The current flu vaccination has undergone extensive testing and has been registered and monitored by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). A national program, AusVaxSafety, is now in place to monitor unexpected events following immunisation and ensure prompt public health actions.
Q: I have read that the flu shot only protects against one strain? Is it really worth getting it for my kids?
A: There are four different strains in the 2018 flu vaccine for kids (which means more variants of the flu are covered). “The composition of the vaccine is reviewed every year, and modified accordingly,” says Kim. This means you get the best chance of being protected against the biggest threat.
Most Australian states this year offer free flu vaccines for kids six months to five years, as it is recognised that all young children are at risk from severe complications from influenza.
Q: If I’m pregnant or breastfeeding and have had the flu shot, will any immunity pass to my baby via my milk?
A: If mum has had the flu vaccine during pregnancy, baby gets protected via trans-placental antibodies. Young infants also gain a level of protection from antibodies in the breast milk.
Q: Are there side effects from the vaccine that I should be watching out for?
Most people don’t experience side effects, according to Kathy. In children under five years of age however, the reaction of the immune system might be more obvious. Common side effects of flu vaccine can include:
- Muscle aches
- Localised pain, redness or swelling at the injection site
- Low grade fever
If you are at all concerned, it’s best to speak with your immunisation nurse or doctor.
The Immunisation Coalition has launched the #hitmewithyourbestshot campaign to encourage all Aussies to book their flu vaccination. For more information on how to be flu smart, visit the Immunisation Coalition
Sniffles already got you down? Check out our top tips to help ease the winter germs.