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 ten years (age on 31st August 2018) are also eligible as the vaccine programme for children is again being extended this year.

The vaccine for adults is a small injection, but for children it is a simple nasal spray. Children aged between two and three years can receive the nasal vaccine at their GP surgery while those in reception class and every primary school (years 1-6) can get it at school.

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, 17,000 children and adults were diagnosed with influenza, with 192 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 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.”

Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda University Health Board, echoes what Jenny says: “The nasal spray vaccine provides very effective protection for children against influenza and it works best if given before flu starts to circulate.

“Influenza spreads very easily. Extending the programme to more children this year will help protect them from catching flu, and will also prevent them spreading it to others in the community who may be very vulnerable. I particularly call on the parents of 2-3 year old children to get their children vaccinated with the simple nasal spray this year as the statistics show as few as six 2-3 year old children vaccinated prevents one case of flu – this age group has the best opportunity over all others to help stop the spread of flu – they are our ultimate “superprotectors”.

While most NHS flu vaccines are given in GP surgeries, free vaccination is also available for some eligible adults in many community pharmacies across Wales. Carers, volunteers providing planned emergency first aid, Community First Responders  and for the first time this year, people working in care homes that have regular client contact are also entitled to the vaccine. It’s also recommended that frontline health and social care workers have the free vaccine to protect themselves and those they care for. They can talk to their occupational health department or employer about where and when they can get their vaccine.

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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