By Dr Kishore Kumar
Flu, which is often mistaken for the common cold because of similar symptoms, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses. While anyone can get the flu, children are at a higher risk – especially ones under 5 years of age, and are usually the ones circulating the virus. Flu seasons also vary, depending on where you live and weather conditions, too. Along with children, adults especially parents, and grandparents should also consider getting themselves vaccinated.
Flu transmission is a real problem in schools and crowded places where people gather in large groups, such as in play grounds. The virus can be passed through hand-to-hand contact, sharing of lunch boxes, pencils, spoons and forks, playing computer games, inhaling infected droplets in the air (coughed up or sneezed by an infected person).
Flu should, therefore, be taken seriously as it can lead to severe illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, asthma, or in children suffering from type 1 diabetes, hospitalisation and even death.
The flu virus circulates in the air throughout the year but peaks during summers, monsoons and winters. Timely vaccination is one of the most powerful and effective ways of protecting yourself and your children against flu. A single shot flu vaccine protects against four dominant influenza viruses in circulation around the world. It is recommended for everyone aged six months and older.
Flu vaccination and children
When a child is infected by the flu virus, he/she is likely to run a high fever for several days and have body ache, fatigue, sore throat and weakness. The child can have additional complaints like stomach pain, ear-aches, shortness of breath and sudden dizziness and even convulsions, especially in children under 6 years of age. In such circumstances, it is advisable to immediately seek medical intervention.
Also, watch out for worsening of fever or cough, as it may be a sign of pneumonia. Complete rest is advised for children who have the flu. I would advise giving plenty of fluids to the children along with a healthy diet to ensure speedy recovery. In addition, parents and care-givers should not allow infected children from coming into contact with other people especially grandparents in order to curb the spread of the virus.
A must do for all children is to maintain respiratory hygiene — cough into your elbows, wash your hands frequently, sneeze mucous into a tissue and throw that in the bin, maintain a safe distance, if you have fever and cold, stay at home. Flu vaccines are a must for children as they are more susceptible to viral infections.
It is important to note that vaccines are not for just children. If you are above 60, pregnant, or if you are high risk for flu, with any medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, COPD — you need to protect yourself, too, from seasonal influenza. Such vaccinations are easily available. Parents should look at getting their children vaccinated every year with the latest available flu vaccine, recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The influenza viruses mutate frequently and so annual vaccination is recommended to help protect high-risk groups against influenza. Ideally, the whole family should take precautions given the highly infectious nature of the virus. All family members should get the flu shot every year to protect themselves from this deadly virus. Ask your local doctor today about the flu vaccination.
(Dr Kumar is the Chairman and Neonatologist at the Cloudnine Group of Hospitals in Bengaluru)
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