AS the festive period approaches, parents of two and three year-olds are being reminded to ensure their children are protected against flu.

Children aged two to eight years (on 31 August 2017) are eligible for a free flu vaccine in Wales, but this year uptake is low in children aged two and three, with only two in every five children in this age group currently protected.

Uptake of the nasal spray vaccine in primary school aged children has been good (almost 70 per cent), but stands at 40 per cent for children aged two and three years old.**

Young children are known to be very good at spreading germs and as families come together this festive season, it is recommended they have the vaccine to protect the whole family.

The flu vaccine is the single best way to protect against catching and spreading flu. The vaccine protects the child and also helps protect others too by reducing the spread of flu.

Influenza can affect people of all ages, and can be severe. Last winter in Wales, 671 children and adults were diagnosed with influenza in hospital, with 74 admitted to intensive care units.

For most healthy children, influenza can mean several miserable days at home in bed. However, parents should be aware that flu can sometimes result in serious complications, especially for very young children and those with long term health problems.

For two and three year old children the vaccine – which is a quick, safe and completely pain free nasal spray – will be given at their local GP surgery. If you have not heard from your GP, please contact them as soon as possible to make an appointment.

Jenny Israel, Head of Children’s Public Health Nursing, Hywel Dda University Health Board explains why it’s so important that eligible children receive the flu nasal spray vaccine.

She said, “We are encouraging children in the eligible groups to be vaccinated to prevent the spread of flu in schools and the wider community. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles. In young children gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea can also occur, and can lead to some children needing admission to hospital, which can be a frightening experience for the child and the parents.  For those most at risk – the very young, vulnerable adults, pregnant women and the elderly, flu can be very serious. It can lead to serious illnesses such as bronchitis, otitis media (particularly in children), pneumonia; and in some cases meningitis and encephalitis, and even death.

“Children are super-spreaders of flu. Vaccinating children minimises the spread of flu to their family, within nurseries and schools, and in the general population, and so protects the most vulnerable from flu and its complications.”

Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, echoes what Dr Owen says: “The nasal spray vaccine provides very effective protection for children against influenza and it works best if given before flu starts to circulate.

“Vaccination helps protect individual children from flu and also can help stop it spreading to family, friends and the wider community.”

In addition to children between the ages of two to eight (age on  31 August 2017), other groups strongly advised to get vaccinated are pregnant women, individuals from six months of age with long term health conditions, people aged 65 and over and carers. Health and social care workers are also advised to have the flu vaccination to protect themselves and the people they care for.

Immunity wanes over time and each year the flu viruses that circulate and cause health problems can change so vaccines are also changed to match them. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from catching or spreading influenza.

For further information visit www.beatflu.org or follow Beat Flu on Facebook and Twitter.

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