Shoo Flu

Posted on May 9, 2015 in Health Topics

Shoo Flu

The flu vaccine will give your child a fighting chance against the influenza virus

Every year, especially during the winter season, the influenza virus makes its infectious rounds. The virus infects the nose, throat and lungs, causing illness, hospitalisation and even death, so it’s not to be taken lightly. Young children, and those who have certain long-term health conditions such as asthma, are particularly at risk of getting serious flu complications. Having a strong immune system is a vital line of defence against the mutating virus, but health practitioners encourage parents to also have their children vaccinated with the latest influenza vaccine. The best time to do this is in March or April, but it’s never too late. The vaccine is recommended from six months old.

“Each year, new vaccination formulations are developed based on the latest influenza strains,” explains Dr Neville Wellington, a GP in Cape Town. “The vaccination is made up of a chemically inactivated virus [parts of three different strains], which enables the body to get to know and store the ‘shape’ of the virus so that when you are exposed to the actual virus, your body is armed to fight it.”

Lee Baker, a medicine information pharmacist from Joburg, explains that the vaccine is not live, so it cannot cause flu. But how effective is it in preventing flu? “This all depends on whether or not the strains circulating are those in the vaccine this year, as well as the age and health of the person being vaccinated,” says Baker. “A two-year study published in 2003 of children aged 6–24 months old found that the vaccine was 66% effective in preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza in one year of the study.” The flu vaccine will only protect against the strains of flu in the vaccine, points out Baker, so you may still get sick if a different strain has been circulating. “And you may also get sick after being vaccinated if you were already incubating the flu virus at the time of being vaccinated,” Baker explains.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, it takes about two weeks after the vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza virus infection to develop in the body, which is why it’s best to get vaccinated before the flu season. The side effects to the vaccine are generally mild, as is the case for most vaccines, and may include pain and redness at the injection site, as well as a headache and body ache within 24 hours after the vaccine is given. “But these are usually resolved within three days,” says Baker. You can get this year’s flu vaccine at pharmacies, your family doctor or hospitals.

If you do happen to get flu, antibiotics are not advisable to treat the infection as they are only effective against bacteria. Wellington advises that you get enough rest at home to give your body the chance to fight the virus and also prevent spreading the virus at school or work. There are plenty of medications available to help relieve the symptoms and discomfort, but always consult with your child’s paediatrician first.