What is Influenza

What is Influenza

Influenza, commonly called ‘flu’, is a highly contagious​​ respiratory disease that can affect anyone – including healthy people. It could lead to severe complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infection, meningitis (inflammation of the lining that covers the brain) or even death.

But its symptoms can be very similar to the common cold. So how can you tell the difference between them?

Although both conditions may start off with a stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat and cough, flu also comes with more severe symptoms. Symptoms like a persistent high fever from 38°C to 41°C, severe headaches and extreme exhaustion are common for flu but rare in the common cold.​

Symptoms of flu are usually sudden and include:

  • High fever and chills.
  • Sore throat and coughing.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Stuffy nose, sneezing and nasal discharge.
  • Fatigue and weakness.


How is flu spread?

Flu can be spread directly from person to person. When someone infected coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus can be transmitted into the air through droplets. Your child may then breathe in the virus, which enters their nose, throat or lungs. It then attacks your child’s respiratory system, inflaming the mucous membrane.

Flu can also be spread indirectly. Your child may touch​​ a surface with flu viruses on it, like a door knob. Then by touching their own nose or mouth, they transfer the virus. Or perhaps someone who is infected shares food with your child, without using a separate serving spoon.


Will my child develop complications?

While different people react differently to flu, your child may be more susceptible to serious complications if they:

• Are between 6 months to 5 years.

• Have a weakened immune system or low immune resistance due to medication.

• Have heart or lung disease (including asthma).

• Have a chronic metabolic disease (including diabetes.

• Have kidney disease​ or is on dialysis.​​

• Have a blood disorder like thalassemia.​​

• Are on long-term aspirin therapy (they are at risk of Reye syndrome, a deadly disease affecting all organs especially the liver and brain, after a flu infection).


What treatment is available?

There is no substitute for a flu vaccination, but antiviral medications may help reduce the severity of symptoms and help your child recover faster.


How do I care for my sick child?

If your child has flu-like symptoms, see your doctor promptly. Do not attempt to administer medication on them yourself. Discourage any strenuous physical activities until they are completely well again. And if their symptoms worsen, bring your child to the nearest A&E for immediate treatment.

To stop the spread, you may also want to keep them away from school and crowded places.


What precautions can I take to prevent the spread of flu?

The best way to prevent its spread is through a vaccination, but good personal hygiene and habits can help. Teach your child:

  • The importance of washing their hands with soap and water, especially after going to the toilet.
  • To sneeze or cough into a tissue.
  • To avoid public places and use a surgical mask when they are ill. Keep in mind that masks should be changed regularly every 8 hours.
  • Not to spit in public places.
  • To use a serving spoon when sharing food.


You should also encourage your child to lead a healthy lifestyle.

  • Feed them a balanced diet​, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Build 150 minutes of physical activity into each week.
  • Ensure they have enough sleep and rest.


When should I get my child vaccinated?

Because it takes approximately 2 weeks for a vaccine to be effective, your child should get the vaccination before peak flu season starts. In Singapore, the season is generally from December and February, and May to July.


Will the vaccination have any side effects?

Your child may experience some minor side effects like:

  • Soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given.
  • Muscle aches or a headache.
  • Slight fever.
  • Runny nose.
  • Cough or sore throat.
  • Vomiting.

These could occur soon after the vaccination and last about 1 to 2 days. However, on rare occasions, a flu vaccination can cause a severe allergic reaction. As not everyone is suitable for a flu vaccination, you should consult your doctor before getting your child vaccinated. 


Why does my child need a vaccination each year?

Because flu viruses are constantly evolving. Also, your child’s immunity to flu viruses may decline over time. So an annual vaccination is recommended as their best protection against flu.

However, the flu vaccine does not protect against bir​d flu or H7N9. Currently, there is no vaccine for this strain. Learn more about Influenza A/H7N9 and how to prevent an infection.


Where can I get my child vaccinated?

Vaccinations are offered at hospitals, polyclinics and GP clinics.

You can now als​​​o use your Medisave​* up to $500/$700 per year per account can be used for influenza vaccinations for persons with a higher risk of developing influenza-related complications.  Click here for more information on subsidies available, other vaccine-preventable diseases and frequently asked questions.

*With effect from 1 Jan 2014

Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.

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