The winter flu season is bearing down upon us again and the question, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate against it, is of concern to a lot of parents. Playtimes speaks to Dr. Kenneth Lau, paediatric specialist at The Hong Kong Adventist Hospital-Stubbs Road and asks for more information about influenza and the vaccine against it.
What is influenza?
Influenza is a contagious illness caused by different strains of the influenza virus. There are four distinct types of influenza virus; A, B, C and D. The first two, A and B and its sub-variants causes most winter epidemics of influenza. Type C generally causes very mild symptoms and does not usually starts epidemics. Newly identified type D primarily infects cattle and is not thought to infect humans.
The illness is characterised by fever, muscle aches and soreness, headache, malaise and sometimes will include a sore throat, cough and runny nose.
How long does it normally take to get over a flu infection?
Influenza is usually self-limiting and can last anywhere between 2 to 7 days. An infected person may recovery quickly or feel ill for longer depending on their general state of health and subsequent remedial action taken.
Are there any possible complications to an influenza infection?
People with compromised immunity, such as the elderly, very young children and babies who catch the virus, may have a more severe infection as their immune systems are weaker. The flu can become a serious illness that could be complicated by upper respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, or even pneumonia, which if undetected or left untreated can progress to a stage where hospitalisation is needed or in the most serious cases, could lead to death.
Serious influenza infection can occur even in healthy individuals if remedial action for symptoms and rest are not undertaken.
How can you ‘catch the flu’?
The influenza virus is most commonly transmitted by droplets from an infected person; when they cough, sneeze or blow their nose. Most of the time people unsuspectingly inhale the virus, by passing by a person who has just coughed or sneezed, or through touching a surface where a sneeze or cough droplet has landed and inadvertently touching their nose, mouth or eyes.
How can we prevent Influenza?
Good hygiene prevents a lot of contagious illnesses from spreading. Particularly for young children, a good hand washing routine before meals and after any kind of tactile play is good practice. Eating good, fresh, nutritious and varied food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, boosts the immune system. Hydration is very important as well as it helps with the elimination of toxic substances from the body. Fresh juices and plenty of water will also help the body fight infection.
If you are ill with the flu, stay at home to rest. Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. Dispose of used tissues in a covered bin. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after blowing your nose or coughing into your hands. This all helps with preventing the spread of influenza.
The influenza vaccination is still one of the most effective means to prevent the infection and its associated symptoms and complications.
Why do children need to get vaccinated?
The flu can be a very unpleasant illness with potentially serious complications, including bronchitis and pneumonia. Children younger than 5 years and especially those younger than 2 years are at high risk of serious influenza complications. Children of any age with chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system also are at high risk of serious flu complications.
Influenza is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year, millions of children get very ill with seasonal influenza; thousands of children are hospitalised with complications arising from influenza infection.
The flu vaccine offers the best defense against getting the flu and spreading it to others.
Does influenza vaccine work right away?
No. It takes about 2 weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. Get vaccinated early to ensure protection.
Are there any side effects to the vaccine? How long do they last?
The flu shot is a safe, effective treatment for influenza with few side effects. Mild symptoms include fever, headache and aching muscles and may occur in some people after being immunised, especially those receiving the vaccine for the first time. These symptoms can start within 6 to 12 hours and end within 24 to 48 hours after the vaccine is given. These symptoms are much milder and of much shorter duration compared to the symptoms of a full blown influenza infection.
If you’re concerned about side effects, please speak to your doctor.
Is the flu vaccine safe for everyone?
People who have had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of inactivated influenza vaccine or other vaccine components are not suitable to have inactivated influenza vaccination.
Individuals with a mild egg allergy who are considering an influenza vaccination can be given an inactivated influenza vaccine in primary care. Those with a diagnosed or suspected severe egg allergy, should be seen by an allergist or immunologist for evaluation of egg allergy and for administration of an inactivated influenza vaccine if clinically indicated. They must not take the vaccine without first consulting a doctor.
Those with bleeding disorders or on anticoagulant medication should consult their doctors for advice. The vaccination should be deferred for people who are showing symptoms of fever until the fever is cleared.
The vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of serious influenza complications and for people who live with or care for people at higher risk for serious complications.
When is the right time to have a flu shot?
The winter flu season is usually from October until March. It is recommended to have the vaccine as early in the season as possible. People aged 9 years old or above are recommended to receive 1 dose in the 2017/18 season.
To ensure adequate immunity against influenza, children under 9 years old who have never received any influenza vaccine are recommended to have 2 doses in 2017/18 with a minimum interval of 4 weeks.
Children who have received influenza vaccine in the 2016/17 season or before are recommended to receive 1 dose in the 2017/18 season.
The Hong Kong Adventist Hospital-Stubbs Road is offering a Flu vaccine package that includes a GP consultation and the cost and administration of the vaccine for $360. For appointment bookings or more information, please call the The Hong Kong Adventist Hospital-Stubbs Road Out-patient Department at 36518808 or make an appointment with this LINK.