In their imaginary world, children could be superheroes fighting fearsome monsters. In real life, however, children are quite helpless against many threats to their health and well-being. Influenza is one of them. Worldwide, this disease is responsible for between 290,000 and 650,000 respiratory-related deaths annually1, many involving young children.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also estimates that every year, flu-related hospitalisations among children younger than five years ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 in the United States. This could be because such young children have immature immune systems; furthermore, those below six months are not old enough to be vaccinated.2
Children with pre-existing medical conditions have a higher likelihood of getting hospitalised for influenza. Of the 40% of children studied by Dawood, 18% had asthma, 15% (of those below two years) had been born prematurely, and 7% had developmental delay.5
However, this does not mean that other children are safe. A 25 year-long study of 1,665 healthy children found that influenza was associated with high death rates in otherwise healthy children aged below five years. Acute otitis media (painful middle ear infection) and lower respiratory tract disease were highest among children aged under two years old.6
Seeing how children share toys and have close context with their school friends, siblings and other family members, it is no surprise that they can easily catch and spread the disease. In fact, they shed greater amounts of the virus for long periods than adults do, despite displaying symptomatic illnesses for a shorter time.8
All this often comes at their own and their families’ detriment. A study by Principi et al found that most children with influenza attended day-care centres or schools. They also had a higher likelihood of fever and croup (an infection of the upper airway characterised by a barking cough), and a longer school absence.9
Their parents and siblings also had more respiratory illnesses, needed more medical visits, missed more work or school days, and needed help at home to care for the ill children for a longer period of time.10
Influenza vaccination should be given annually4 to protect against new mutations of the viruses that are expected in the coming season.14
This will substantially reduce the risk of severe disease that may result in hospitalisation or serious complications. It will also help prevent the virus from spreading at home (particularly if you have a baby under six months old) or in school.15
While temperate countries experience influenza seasons in winter, we in Malaysia have it all year round. As such, you should get your child vaccinated as soon as possible, and repeat the process every year.
Learn more. Watch Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali speak about flu prevention for children at www.actoflove.ifl.my/juniors