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Getting the flu vaccine will give your child a fighting chance against the influenza virus.

Every year, especially during the winter season, the influenza virus makes its infectious rounds. The virus infects the nose, throat and lungs, causing illness. And, in severe cases it can result in hospitalisation and even death. Young children, and those with certain long-term health conditions such as asthma, are particularly at risk of getting serious flu complications. Having a strong immune system is a vital line of defence against the mutating virus. However, health practitioners encourage parents to also have their children vaccinated, from six months old, with the latest influenza vaccine. The best time to do this is in March or April, but it’s never too late.

“New vaccination formulations are developed each year. This is based on the latest strains,” explains Dr Neville Wellington, a GP in Cape Town. “The vaccination is made up of a chemically inactivated virus [parts of three different strains]. This enables the body to get to know and store the ‘shape’ of the virus so that when it is exposed to the actual virus, it can fight it.”

How effective is the vaccine?

Lee Baker, a medicine information pharmacist from Joburg, explains that the vaccine is not live, so it cannot cause flu. But how effective is it in preventing flu? “This all depends on whether or not the strains circulating are those in the vaccine this year. It also depends on a person’s age and health.

The flu vaccine will only protect against the strains of flu in the vaccine. So, you may still get sick if a different strain has been circulating. “And, you may also get sick if you are incubating the flu virus at the time of vaccination,” Baker explains.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, it takes about two weeks after the vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza virus infection to develop in the body. The side-effects are generally mild: pain and redness at the injection site, and a headache and body ache within 24 hours after the vaccine is given.

If you do happen to get flu, antibiotics are not advisable to treat the infection as they are only effective against bacteria. Wellington advises that you rest at home. This will give your body the chance to fight the virus and help to prevent spreading the virus. There are plenty of medications available to help relieve the symptoms and discomfort, but always consult with your child’s paediatrician first.

Flu vaccines are available at pharmacies, your family doctor or hospitals.

Find out how to relieve the symptoms of flu with our super flu-fighting foods.

Marc de Chazal