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With flu season around the corner, it’s time to get shot

With flu season around the corner - the April to June period is one peak for Singapore, while the September-December is another - one question parents should be considering now is whether to get their children vaccinated against the illness.

With flu season around the corner, it’s time to get shot

A nurse vaccinates a patient as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, southeastern France. Reuters file photo

With flu season around the corner - the April to June period is one peak for Singapore, while the September-December is another - one question parents should be considering now is whether to get their children vaccinated against the illness.

The other is what else can be done to protect their children.

The question is particularly pertinent this year, in light of the impact of flu seasons elsewhere.

In the United States and Australia, for example, the flu season was particularly bad. In February, for example, US health officials warned that the season was the worst experienced in the country for years, and urged parents to get their children vaccinated.

In Singapore, meanwhile, the peak flu season extended into January, with some doctors tabbing the rainy, cold weather as one reason.

So should you consider that vaccine? The answer is yes, say doctors - and not just for the children. Parents should get shots too, they say, as the vaccine is the best way to stave off the illness.

Dr Vivien Ang, a senior family physician at Parkway Shenton, said: “Flu vaccination is recommended as it can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalisations.”

With April just two weeks away, it is also the right time to head to your neighbourhood clinic.

“It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body,” said Dr Ang.

Aside from getting vaccinated, parents should also familiarise themselves with the symptoms of flu, so they can seek treatment early, doctors said.

One common mistake to avoid is brushing off the flu as a common cold.

One of the most common inaccuracies is mistaking a cold for the flu; they are similar, but not the same.

Doctors say one way to tell both apart is that flu symptoms appear abruptly, while colds develop more gradually.

Dr Christelle Tan, a paediatrics specialist with Raffles, said the flu usually starts off with a fever, cough, sore throat and drippy nose. There are also several other symptoms that may be less common, including significant lethargy and giddiness, muscle aches, abdominal pain and even diarrhoea. Flu symptoms can also be more severe and may last longer than a cold, which is usually cured within a week, she added.

Even though the flu is an illness that is generally easy to cure, there are certain cases where it is more serious and could pose a danger to your child. Parents should look out for signs of this and get medical attention immediately if they present themselves.

Said Dr Tiffany Yap, a family physician with Parkway Shenton: “If your child has a high fever for more than three days, you should bring him to see a GP, especially if he doesn’t seem to be as active as before, or if his appetite is reduced. For infants, watch for poor feeding and a reduced number of wet diapers.”

Dr Yap listed several other signs that immediate medical attention is needed: If you are having difficulty waking your child; if he seems confused or has problems breathing; if his skin colour appears grey or blue or he has a rash; or if your infant cries constantly and you cannot settle him.

If the illness persists for more than a week, see a doctor, she added.

It is important for parents to heed the signs of the flu as a serious case could be life-threatening. Dr Tan said a severe case of the flu can result in pneumonia, brain infections (meningitis/encephalitis), shutdown of many organs (multi-organ failure) and even death. A severe flu could also cause your child to catch a bacterial infection, which will make him even more ill.

Some children are also more susceptible to the dangers of the flu. Dr Tan said children under the age of five, and especially those under two years old, are at a higher risk of catching severe flu. Those with underlying medical issues such as asthma, lung or heart diseases, weakened immune systems or neurological conditions (like epilepsy, cerebral palsy or other types of brain, muscle or nerve conditions) are also at higher risk.

Parents can certainly play a part when it comes to both flu prevention and curing it as quickly as possible. Dr Tan advised parents to encourage their children to eat more vegetables and fruit, and drink loads of water.

“In addition, good hygiene practices like washing hands before eating, avoiding sharing of food/utensils with those who are ill, and teaching children with flu-like symptoms to sneeze into a tissue will help fight the spread of flu,” she said. “Older children should wear a mask to either avoid spreading the bug, or to protect themselves against those who are ill.”

Finally, Parkway Shenton’s Dr Ang also sounded a note of caution to those who are heading to a clinic: Check with your doctor before getting vaccinated, as flu shots are not for everyone.

“There are some people with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients,” she said.

“People who have an allergy to eggs or other vaccine ingredients, or who are feeling ill, should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot.”

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