With 400 people reported as hospitalised this week as a result of flu and 21 outbreaks confirmed influenza is unfortunately still a hot topic. For six weeks we have had flu levels in Ireland higher than our baseline threshold and this week brings the news that rates have increased significantly in children ages 0-4 years and the 5-14 year old age group were actually the most affected age group in Ireland in week 3 2018. Widespread influenza activity was reported in all HSE areas in Ireland in week 3 2018.
The HPSC who are Ireland’s specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases, say that influenza is expected to circulate for the next four weeks at least so are still urging people in ‘at risk’ groups to get vaccinated as it is not too late.
According to the HPSC statement from 25/1/18
‘The general practitioner (GP) consultation rates for influenza-like illness (ILI) increased to 103 per 100,000 population during week 3 (week ending January 21st 2018) compared to 97.8 per 100,000 during the previous week. Influenza B and Influenza A (H3N2) are currently the main flu viruses circulating in the community with more Influenza B reported.
The influenza vaccine is available free of charge from GPs for all people in at risk groups, and from pharmacists for everyone in at risk groups aged 18 years and over. An administration charge may apply to people who don’t hold medical cards or GP visit cards.’
So who is at risk?
I’ve highlighted the ‘at risk’ categories which are most relevant for WonderBaba readers.
- All those aged 65 years and older
- People including children with chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, chronic neurological disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, chronic liver or denal disease and diabetes.
- children aged 6 months and older with any condition that can affect lung function, especially those attending special schools/day centres with cerebral palsy or intellectual disability. Those on long-term aspirin therapy (because of the risk of Reyes syndrome) or those with Downs Syndrome.
- Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment and all cancer patients
- All pregnant women. The vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy.
- Those with morbid obesity i.e. Body Mass Index ≥ 40
- Residents of nursing homes, old people’s homes and other long stay facilities
- Health care workers and carers of those in at-risk groups.
Please note that chronic respiratory disease includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, moderate or severe asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
NB – many young children suffer from respiratory problems but are too young to have been diagnosed with asthma. If your child uses an inhaler or has had ongoing problems with their respiratory health please discuss it with your GP who will decide if your child is ‘at risk’ or not.
Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalisation and death. The vaccine takes 10-21 days to take effect once received. It is worth getting vaccinated if you are in an ‘at risk’ group ASAP. If you are an adult and at risk or not just pop into your local pharmacy where they will discuss vaccination with you. I believe the people in Milltown totalhealth Pharmacy in Dublin 6 are lovely….eh hem 😉
What if myself or my child are not in an at risk group?
If you are not in an ‘at risk’ category you are less likely to suffer from health complications due to the flu. This means you are more likely to be able to fight the flu off yourself without the need for medical intervention. Children who are not ‘at risk’ are not currently being urged to receive vaccination. It is important to remember that this is because the children in ‘at risk’ groups are more likely to suffer from complications where as a healthy child is likely to be able to fight it off with the help of some over the counter medicines and a lot of TLC. Saying that if you are any way concerned about your child’s well being it is really important to get them checked out by a doctor. There’s some more info below on when to do that.
When to seek help
If you are in an at risk group with flu symptoms OR if you are not in an at risk group but your flu symptoms are severe or getting worse you should contact your GP. GPs may wish to prescribe antivirals for those presenting with influenza in the at risk groups. If you need to visit your GP or the Emergency Department, please phone first to explain that you might have flu.
If your child has flu and their symptoms are severe or last for more than one week contact your GP. Please phone first to explain that they might have flu.
Normal symptoms of the flu are listed below – click ‘learn more’ to read my articles which can explain what is normal for these symptoms and what is not so that you know when it is appropriate to visit the doctor. Treating symptoms is the best way to improve comfort in a child suffering from the flu – find out more using these links.
- Congestion – https://www.wonderbaba.ie/blog/nasal-congestion/
- Sore throat – https://www.wonderbaba.ie/blog/sore-throats-in-babies-and-children/
- Cough – https://www.wonderbaba.ie/blog/coughs-what-causes-them-and-how-to-treat-them/
- Fever – https://www.wonderbaba.ie/blog/temperatures-what-they-are-and-how-to-treat-them/
- Muscle and body aches
Many of the antiviral medicines are currently unavailable so it is worth phoning your pharmacy whilst you are still at the doctors to see if stock is available if you have been given an antiviral prescription. This way you can discuss alternatives with your doctor.
Is this years flu vaccine working?
This years trivalent flu vaccine protects against three strains of flu which the WHO predicted to be the most prevalent this year. They have to decide this back in August so it is almost impossible to get it 100% right due to a virus ability to mutate and change over time. The strains of flu covered in this years vaccine include two influenza A strains (H1N1 and H3N2) and one influenza B strain (Brisbane). H3N2 is circulating and some cases of H1N1 have been reported this year but the numbers are low. The most common strain doing the rounds is a different B strain which is known as B/Yamagata – unfortunately this is not covered in this years trivalent flu vaccine. However it is really important to understand that both influenza A and B are circulating and the vaccine is useful for the Brisbane B strain – just not the b/yamagata. So in answer to the question… is the flu vaccine working? Yes. Is it working 100%?….No. Is it worth getting?… YES – the flu vaccine offers the best possible protection that you can get for influenza and I urge the parents of children who may possibly be in at ‘at risk’ group to go to their GP to discuss vaccination. Pharmacies cannot vaccinate children, just adults. By getting the vaccine you are not only protecting your child but also those who are ‘at risk’ around you.
Would you like to learn more about the flu vaccine? If so have a read of the Patient information leaflet right here – http://www.medicines.ie/medicine/12265/PIL/Inactivated+Influenza+Vaccine+(Split+Virion)+BP/
How do we reduce the flu from spreading?
Reducing the flu from spreading not only reduces the risk of illness for your own child – it also reduces the risk of those who are really unwell or receiving immunosuppressive treatment such as chemotherapy from catching it. I know my conscience would not be clear if I did not do everything I could to teach my children about how to reduce the risk of transmitting infection. The potential impact of another child contracting it whose little body is not able to fight it off would be devastating. We all have a role to play in flu prevention and risk reduction even if it is just to teach our kids how to sneeze or cough into a tissue or their elbows.
Preventing spread to others
Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze (catch it), disposing of the tissue as soon as possible (bin it) and cleaning your hands as soon as you can (kill it) are important measures in helping prevent the spread of germs and reducing the risk of transmission.
Its really important to teach kids to carry a tissue or failing that to cough or sneeze into their elbow. Its all about stopping the viruses from spreading through the air where they travel and infect others.
I hope you have found this article helpful and if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to contact me by sending a private message to the WonderBaba facebook page or my website contact page or by calling me (Sheena) at Milltown totalhealth Pharmacy in Dublin 6 on 012600262.
This article was written on 26/1/18 – new information will become available and should be checked on the websites below.