Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses.

In Malaysia, influenza cases are seen all year, with peaks observed during the rainy season.

In 2015, the Health Ministry recorded 12,133 influenza cases that were detected from 88 sentinel sites throughout the country. In the same year, nine deaths were reported.

These figures may well be higher as many cases go unreported, and even undiagnosed as influenza.

Signs Of The Flu

Symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches and tiredness. A child may suffer from one or a combination of these symptoms.

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Recovery can be expected within several days to not more than two weeks after onset of symptoms in healthy persons. However, children have a higher risk of developing serious complications, which include:

  • Chest infections – including pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Worsening symptoms of existing medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes and lung problems
  • Tonsillitis
  • Otitis media
  • Sinusitis
  • Seizures
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis (brain inflammation)

Children at high risk of infection include those who are below the age of two (whose immune systems have not fully matured) and children with certain medical conditions (e.g. asthma, heart disease, kidney disorders, chronic lung disease).

A child who has the flu should:

1. Get plenty of rest at home. Do not let your child go to school/day care in order to avoid infecting other children.

2. Hydrate adequately with plain water.

3. Cover their coughs and sneezes with a clean tissue or cloth, and discard it properly into a bin.

If neither are available, they should be taught to cover their mouths with their hands and wash them thoroughly afterwards.

Influenza in children can also be treated with antiviral drugs that keep flu viruses from reproducing in the body. It only works against influenza viruses and must be prescribed by a doctor.

Get Vaccinated

The best way to protect your child from the flu is to get him or her vaccinated each year. It is recommended that children above six months of age get a seasonal flu vaccine from one of the two vaccine types:

• Trivalent: protects against three flu viruses – influenza A (H1N1) virus; influenza A (H3N2) virus; and influenza B/Victoria lineage virus

• Quadrivalent: protects against four flu viruses – influenza A (H1N1) virus; influenza A (H3N2) virus; and two influenza B viruses (B/Victoria and B/Yamagata lineage)

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The concept of herd immunity.

Children younger than six months cannot be vaccinated. Therefore, those around them (e.g. parents, siblings, grandparents, caregivers) should be the ones to get vaccinated.

You can do so at any public or private hospital or clinic nationwide after consulting your doctor.

Preferably, we need to get enough people in the population vaccinated to indirectly protect those few who have not, cannot or did not receive them. This type of broad protection within the population is known as “herd immunity”.

Immunisation not just protects the individual, it protects the whole community.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are also encouraged to get vaccinated because of the potential high risk complications from flu.

The influenza vaccine is safe to be administered at any time during pregnancy, and also provides protection for the infant during the first six months of his/her life through the transfer of antibodies via the placenta.

Influenza is not a benign illness that can be taken lightly.

Watch your child closely for symptoms of respiratory illness – especially fever – because flu can become severe in high risk children.

Parents should be more aware of the total impact of influenza in children so that we can decrease the burden of influenza on children and the wider society.

Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail is a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.