PHA urges parents to get 'at risk' children vaccinated against seasonal flu
The Public Health Agency is urging Northern Ireland parents to make sure children in 'at risk' groups get their flu vaccine early.The message has been issued to parents and carers of children as the PHA's seasonal flu vaccination programme gets underway for 2011/12.It is very important that children with any condition that puts them more at risk of the complications of flu get the vaccine.These 'at risk' conditions include:chronic lung conditions such as asthma;chest infections that have required hospital admission;chronic heart conditions;chronic liver disease;chronic kidney disease;diabetes;lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;chronic neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy;hereditary and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system or muscles.Children who attend special schools for severe learning or physical disabilities are considered to be particularly at risk, as well as those with other complex health needs.The PHA has written to principals of local special schools, as well as parents of children at these schools, to raise awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated early.Dr Richard Smithson, PHA Flu Vaccination Lead, said: "For many people, flu is a short, unpleasant illness, but it does not usually cause any serious problems. However, for others, it can have very serious complications including, in rare cases, being fatal."We have been particularly reminded over the last two winters that children with chronic neurological problems and other complex health needs are very vulnerable to these complications. We have seen children become very seriously ill and, tragically, there have even been a few deaths in children who attend special schools."For this reason, we recommend that all children who attend special schools for severe learning disability, and special schools for physical disability, are offered the flu vaccine early in the autumn, before the flu viruses start circulating."The vaccine is now available from GP surgeries and the PHA recommends that parents check arrangements with their own GP's surgery so that their child can get the jab.The earlier you get vaccinated the better, as it takes the body about 10-14 days after the jab to develop antibodies. These will then protect you against the same or similar viruses if the body is exposed to them. The vaccine contains three strains of the flu virus, which are considered the most likely to be circulating this winter, including the H1N1 (swine flu) virus."Your child needs to get the flu jab every year - the protection it gives only lasts for one winter, so even if they got it last year, they still need to get it this year," added Dr Smithson."Also, if your child has been diagnosed with flu or swine flu in the past couple of years, they will still need the jab this year as there are different types of flu that the jab will protect against. Getting the flu jab is the best way to protect your child against flu and we would strongly recommend that you arrange for them to have it."Although the vaccine gives good protection, no vaccine gives total protection, so if your child develops flu-like symptoms (such as fever, cough, aches and pains, and sore throat) you should contact your GP for advice. If your child has any of these symptoms, they should be kept at home until they feel better."For more information on seasonal flu, go to www.fluawareni.info and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.