Parents are being warned against underestimating the dangers of influenza in children as the state moves into the traditional late-August seasonal peak of flu infections.
New research has found fewer than one in four children aged six months to four years have received an influenza vaccine this year, despite being at a higher risk of being hospitalised with the illness.
“Influenza is a highly contagious disease that can lead to life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues, and multi-organ failure,” said study co-author Dr Chris Blyth from the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Perth’s Telethon Kids Institute.
“It is the most common vaccine-preventable cause of hospitalisation and infection-related death, more common than whooping cough and meningococcal disease, yet our research has shown parents are under-estimating the urgency to protect their children against the flu.”
Last year, during one of the worst flu seasons on record, thousands of children were hospitalised and several lost their lives.
Dr Blyth is part of the PAEDS-FluCAN collaboration who drew together influenza admissions at 11 hospitals across the country, publishing the results in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
In those 11 hospitals alone, 1268 children were admitted with influenza with one in seven of those requiring treatment in an intensive care unit. Most of the children admitted to hospital with confirmed influenza were aged under five and were previously healthy with no other health conditions.
The results from the collaboration led to all Australian states and territories this year offering a free flu vaccine for children aged under five.
“We need to help parents understand that the younger you are, the higher the risk of being hospitalised with the flu. This is because the first exposure to the virus is always the most severe, striking when the immune system is still developing. Aboriginal children and kids with chronic medical conditions are also at the greatest risk,” Dr Blyth said.
“Statistics from last year show that the highest number of cases occurred in late August, so it is not too late to protect your child from a potentially deadly case of the flu.”
As of last week, 1,772,464 doses of influenza vaccine had been distributed across the state.
So far this year, 294 children aged under four have been diagnosed with influenza compared to 1439 for the same time last year, and 379 cases in children aged 5-14 compared to 2503 to the same time in 2017.
There have been 100 cases of influenza in patients of all ages in the Grampians region this year.
The flu vaccine is registered for babies from six months of age and pregnant women are advised to get the vaccine to protect their newborns.
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