As we approach winter, although at the moment with temperatures still in the high 20’s, early 30’s, it is hard to imagine, it is time to start to think about having a flu vaccine to prevent the early onset of influenza. Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection that is responsible for major outbreaks of respiratory illness around the world, usually in the winter months. Unlike
the common cold, influenza can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis, which often require hospitalisation.
The flu virus is especially dangerous for elderly people, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and very young children, as well as for people with underlying medical conditions. It is estimated that each year, flu contributes to an average of 13,500 hospitalisations and more than 3,000 deaths among Australians aged over 50 years.
Three different types of influenza viruses infect humans: influenza A, B and C. Only influenza A and B cause major outbreaks and severe disease, and these are included in seasonal influenza vaccines. Influenza spreads from person to person through the air by coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact with the virus on hard surfaces or people’s hands. The flu usually differs from
a cold as symptoms develop suddenly, and can lead to complications such as chest infections and pneumonia – particularly among the elderly and young children.
Flu symptoms tend to develop abruptly one to three days after infection, and can include: tiredness, high fever, chills, headache, coughing, sneezing, runny noses, poor appetite, and muscle aches. Most people who get the flu will suffer from mild illness and will recover in less than two weeks. However, some people can develop longer-term health problems, including pneumonia, bronchitis, chest and sinus infections, heart, blood system or liver complications, which can lead to hospitalisation and even death.
Vaccination offers effective protection against influenza, although vaccines need to be given each year as flu viruses are always changing. Influenza vaccination in children:
Children can begin to be immunised against the flu from six months of age.
Children aged eight years and under require two doses, at least four weeks apart in the first year they receive the vaccine.
One dose of influenza vaccine is required for subsequent years and for children
aged nine years and over.
All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing
before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Specific brands of flu vaccine are registered with the TGA for use in children. In 2016, two age-specific flu vaccines will be available under the National Immunisation Program – one for children under three years of age, and another for people aged three years and over:
• Sanofi’s FluQuadri® Junior for children under three years of age.
• GlaxoSmithKline Fluarix Tetra® for people aged three years and older.
Parents should make sure vaccination providers know how old their children are so they can receive the correct vaccine.
Be on the lookout for any of the above signs and to ensure that you are not going to endure the woes of winter, get your vaccination booked in now.