BabyT joined playschool in January this year. Since then we have seen rapid development in many of his skills – communication, fine motor and gross motor. However, there was also a flipside to this. Out of the 10 weeks that he has been there, he has missed school for 2 weeks. The reason was recurrent colds and one particularly bad episode of flu. It left me wondering whether the payoff was worth it. I even considered pulling him out of school.I constantly worried – how can I improve my child’s immunity?
I also read up all I could about influenza.
What is Influenza?
Influenza or more commonly known as flu is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. It can affect humans and also poultry, swine and cattle.
The typical symptoms of flu are
Is Influenza just a fancy name for the common cold?
Most people tend to use the terms flu and colds interchangeably. That is a reasonable thing to happen because the symptoms presented by both conditions are similar.
In reality, however, the cold and flu are caused by two different viruses. Cold is a mild affliction, whereas the manifestation of symptoms in the flu is more severe. The flu can also lead to severe health conditions such as pneumonia, bacterial infections and need intensive care.
How does the Influenza virus find me?
Influenza is a highly contagious disease. You can catch it from encountering an infected person or an object that has been in the environment of an infected person.
Infected people can spread the virus when they sneeze, cough or even talk. Research shows that the flu virus can spread as far as 6 feet with these actions. They travel in the form of tiny droplets and land in the breath (lungs) and even in nose and mouth of new hosts and infect them.
When an infected person wipes their nose or mouth and you then happen to shake hands with this person or they touch you, the virus happily migrates on to your hands. You may then touch your nose with that hand or eat and voila the virus is home.
The influenza virus also sustains when left on surfaces like doorknobs, tables, mobiles, car door handles. You can pick it up from here too.
Can you prevent Influenza?
Sorry to break it to you, but, No. If you are in the way of the virus then the chances are pretty high that you will catch it too.
“We assume I’m healthy and I won’t catch a cold or influenza. This is not true. Everyone is susceptible and our body is exposed to many risks on a daily basis.”
– Dr UdayAnanthPai (Paediatrician, Mumbai)
Simple preventive measures like avoiding people with the virus, or keeping sick people at home may help to some extent. But in today’s times, it is difficult to isolate (infected) people.
You can also not be sure of things like who used your Uber before you and if they left any germs there. You can’t even be sure that the newspaper delivery boy happened to sneeze just before handing over the papers to you in the morning and the viruses are sneaking between the lines. True story.
What’s also interesting is that the symptoms of flu can take up to 4 days to manifest. In this time it is possible that an infected person is spreading the virus to others around him, without even knowing that he is sick.
Are we all doomed then?
The virus mutates and tries with all its might to bring the human race down, but we are survivors and won’t let a tiny speck destroy us. Will we?
I attended a bloggers meet a few months back which aimed to dispel some brazen myths about influenza. I thought I was well read on the topic and knew the best ways to combat a virus, but I came back with a head full of new answers.
This meet was chaired by two eminent doctors –Dr Mukesh Gupta (a Gynaecologist/ Obstetrician, with over 16 years’ experience in his field.) and Dr Uday Ananth Pai (a Paediatrician with over 29 years of experience.)
This is what I learned from the event.
Why should you be worried about Influenza?
Pregnant women and children under the age of 5 are at the most risk of influenza.
We have all seen how pregnancy changed our lives and bodies too. Lots of changes happen to our internal systems including our heart, lungs and immunity. In such cases, pregnant women are at a high risk. If influenza goes untreated in pregnant women, it could pose a risk to their own and their foetus’s well-being. Also, you cannot always take some medications during pregnancy which makes getting any infections worse.
Children (under the age of 5) are growing rapidly. Their body and minds are developing and at such times infections like influenza can be a deterrent to optimal growth. The flu is also more taxing on their little bodies and can deteriorate into conditions which may require hospitalization.
But is it possible to prevent Influenza?
Yes, there is!
Apart from the usual precautions like isolation, regular hand washing and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, there exists an Influenza VACCINE.
While this Influenza vaccine will not guarantee that you never catch that rogue virus it will ensure that the symptoms are mild and won’t drag you to the Emergency.
But isn’t the influenza virus constantly mutating? How can one Influenza vaccine guarantee protection?
Yes, it is true that the influenza virus dons a new avatar every flu season. But just as it arrives, the good people at the pharmaceutical labs identify it and create the right vaccine to counter that strain.
Isn’t it pure genius?
“Go take a flu vaccine, even before you can get pregnant. Only a healthy body can bring a healthy baby, preconception vaccine is important.”
– Dr Mukesh Gupta (Ob/Gyn, Mumbai)
This also means that unlike the bigger vaccinations like DPT (and other acronyms) you cannot take one shot of the Influenza vaccine and expect protection for life. You will need to take one every year.
Dr Pai highlighted that April, May, June (just before schools start) are the best months to take influenza vaccination for children and whole family for complete prevention against flu.
For more information on the Influenza vaccine, I urge you to speak to your doctor (paediatrician and GP) who will advise about the vaccine and the right time to take it. You can also find a wealth of information on Influenza here – Mothers against Influenza.
But what’s the point of protection, my child always gets the virus from my husband who travels a lot and then I get the virus too. It’s like a vicious cycle.
(You know, before I went to the event I felt this would be the best question in the house. But the answer left me stumped. Like literally. It was so simple, I had a total “Duhhh” moment. Here goes!)
Who said the Influenza vaccine is only meant for children or pregnant women?
Every person must take this Influenza vaccine to ensure all-round protection. “Samuhik vaccine” as Dr Mukesh Gupta called it in jest. He said that it was important for all family members and even caretakers of the child to take the vaccine on an annual basis.
Genelia Dsouza who was the celeb guest at this meet shared her personal case.
“My elder child may carry a flu virus and my younger child may get infected. So it is important to protect them both and get the whole family vaccinated.”
So when you discuss with your doctor about the Influenza vaccine for your child, don’t forget to ask about getting yourself a shot too.
I’ll leave you with a very apt quote from Genelia – “No mother must be a Worrier, she’s a Warrior!” Let’s beat down the flu, just like we do everything else that gets in the way of our children. And let’s not forget to take care of ourselves too.
Disclaimer: I attended a discussion on influenza awareness facilitated by Abbott India Limited. Any opinion expressed in this blog is my personal opinion and not the opinion of Abbott India Limited. Abbott India Limited does not assume any liability for the content of the blog. The blog post is not meant to be a replacement for a doctor consultation, nor is it a medical recommendation or prescription of treatment for babies having Influenza. Any reader of this blog or their family members suffering from Influenza should specifically consult his/her doctor for the same and follow the suggested course of treatment.
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