The Flu and what should parents look out for

With upcoming winter events and high rates of flu and COVID circulating in the community, it’s important that we keep doing the little things that will make a big difference this winter, yet many families never get around to thinking about being fully vaccinated!

Most news reports mention the previous flu epidemic in 2017, when Australia experienced its worst influenza season on record. More than 220,000 Australians were diagnosed with influenza that year.

Also on the increase this winter is croup and pneumonia. Despite this, influenza is the most common cause of vaccine-preventable death – more common than meningococcal disease or whooping cough.

Influenza-associated deaths in childhood are uncommon and can frequently be prevented through vaccination. In a Report from the NSW Ombudsman, analysis by Australian researchers determined that of the children who died from influenza in New South Wales in the 10 years to 2014, none were vaccinated.

Children are more likely to catch and spread influenza: they have large volumes of virus in their nasal secretions and, after infection, shed this for days. Most parents of young children get used to the fact that runny noses are often endemic and for many children it is the first time they could be exposed to the flu virus. If they attend Day care or school the infection rates are much higher. Their immune system is not protected for influenza and therefore it responds more slowly to the infection. This means the influenza virus can cause significant ill effects before the immune system can bring it under control.

Children with underlying medical conditions including chronic disorders of the heart, lungs, nervous and immune system are most susceptible, more than half of children admitted to hospital each year area actually healthy.

What should parents look out for?

Look for fever, cough, headache, a sore throat and a runny nose. The virus can also infect the lungs, causing pneumonia. Some children could develop vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle aches and pains.

Parents should seek medical attention if their child:

  • Has difficulty breathing (breathing rapidly)
  • Is vomiting and refusing to drink
  • Is more sleepy than normal
  • Has pain that doesn’t get better with simple pain-relief medication.

If you’re worried about your child during the flu season, see your doctor.

Vaccination is the most effective way to protect your child against the flu. Most people will develop immunity within two to three weeks of vaccination. As influenza usually occurs from June, with the peak around August you still have time to get a vaccination.

You should get the influenza vaccine every year. This is because the most common strains of the virus that cause influenza change every year. The vaccine also changes every year to match these strains.

Influenza immunisation is recommended every year for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over, for free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
  • people aged 6 months or over who have medical conditions that mean they have a higher risk of getting serious disease, for free under the NIP
  • pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy, for free under the NIP
  • people aged 65 years or over, for free under the NIP
  • all children over 6 months and all adults
  • women who are planning a pregnancy
  • people who live or work in aged care homes or long-term facilities
  • homeless people, and the people who care for them
  • healthcare workers
  • people who live or work in the same household as someone who is at high risk of serious disease from influenza
  • people who work in early childhood education and care
  • people who work in the chicken or pig industries, if there is an outbreak of bird flu or swine flu
  • people who are travelling overseas.

Note: This article provides general health information and in no way constitutes medical advice. Ideas and information expressed may not be suitable for everyone. Readers wishing to obtain medical advice should contact their own doctor

In New South Wales, free drive-through clinics now offer testing for influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. Other states and territories may follow.