How to protect your family from influenza

Kinderling News & Features

With winter comes flu season, which isn't pleasant to experience as a patient or as a parent. GP Dr Natalie Caristo shares her helpful information for young families at this very contagious time of year. 

Listen to Dr Natalie on Kinderling Conversation:

What is influenza? 

“The flu is caused by a virus called influenza, of which there are a number of strains and this causes much more severe illness compared to the common cold,” says Natalie. “In children under the age of five, and particularly under the age of two, their immune systems aren’t quite as strong as in adults in being able to fight against this.” 

That means they could have additional illnesses on top of the flu, too. 

“They are more likely to come down with complications such as pneumonia, severe ear infections as well as things like dehydration,” explains Natalie. 

It’s hard to explain to a small child what’s going on with their body when they feel so unwell. 

“Their bodies are just so much smaller and have so much less defence mechanisms than we do as adults, so it can be very scary for parents to watch their kids go through such an illness.” 

How can you prevent it? 

If you want to avoid the flu, it's best to minimise contact with infected people. 

"It’s important to keep your children away from anyone who is sick, which is not always easy," says Natalie. “Particularly with visitors coming to the house, it’s often important to identify anyone that’s sick and request perhaps they come another day.” 

Families should also consider getting the flu vaccine from their doctor. 

“The flu vaccine is for all children over the age of six months and it’s recommended that children receive a flu shot every year, particularly those with other medical conditions such as asthma.”

If someone in the family does become sick, this means lots of hand washing, cleaning benches where there’s lots of touching and keeping the sick person away from the children where possible. 

What is the treatment? 

Natalie explains there’s no 100% effective treatment for influenza, as “antibiotics don’t work against viruses.” 

So it’s about keeping them comfortable when they contract the sickness. 

“It’s really important to ensure they’re keeping their fluids up,” says Natalie. “The other thing that they experience is high temperatures and the aches and pains. So regular paracetamol and ibuprofen is helpful in keeping them comfortable.” 

When seeking medical help, Natalie suggests “the most important time to take them to the doctor is when you’re concerned.”