Influenza in children: Follow these precautionary tips to protect your child

Influenza in children: The H3N2 subtype of the influenza virus has recently become more prevalent in India. Learn how to protect your children against this virus.
Seasonal flu in kids causes
Children need to be protected against influenza. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Somalika Pal Updated: 17 Oct 2023, 18:34 pm IST
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According to doctors, cases of H3N2 flu infections among children below the age of 5 are on the rise. H3N2 is a variant of influenza, a virus that is a significant cause of human influenza. Now as Covid-19 cases are rising in India, there is a surge in the number of children complaining of fever, cough and cold. The majority of them complain of a chronic cough that can continue up to three weeks, as well as very high fevers that last for one to two days and not even responding to paracetamol. With these complaints, quite a large number of children are also experiencing loose motions. In children, H3N2 can cause major complications and takes a little longer to recover. This may even result in respiratory infections or pneumonia, which may necessitate hospitalization and even mortality in severe cases.

Is this a new strain?

India is seeing a surge in H3N2 cases. According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) records, upto 50 per cent of all hospitalizations due to respiratory illnesses is because of the H3N2 strain of the Type A Influenza virus. Influenza is a common respiratory illness caused by the Influenza virus of which there are several types A, B, C, and D. The swine flu H1N1 and the most commonly circulating strain this year H3N2, are common types of Type A influenza and they have been in circulation for a while now.

A unique feature of this virus is its ability to undergo minor gradual mutations as well as sudden drastic mutations. This gives the virus the ability to continuously wreak havoc on public health.

The influenza virus has been responsible for several dreadful and worse pandemics in the past, just like the Covid-19 pandemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 5-20 per cent of the US population is infected by the flu each year, resulting in over 2 lakh hospitalizations and thousands of fatalities, making it a persistently serious public health issue in the country. It is advised that children, the elderly, and some high-risk groups have routine vaccines against the seasonal flu because India experiences an increase in cases during the rainy or winter months.

H3N2 in India

India is experiencing a sharp increase in H3N2 cases this year, far exceeding the usual annual prevalence rates. Many states, including Delhi, Gujrat, Haryana, Odisha, and Maharashtra, have released a public health advisory.

Influenza in children
The H3N2 virus is spreading in India. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Nonetheless, not all are H3N2. Most often rhinovirus is the common cold infection that causes minor symptoms like runny nose and sneezing. The H1N1 type A influenza virus, adenovirus, and more recently SARS-CoV 2 (Covid-19) are the third most prevalent viruses among hospitalized cases of respiratory disease. It should be kept in mind that there are few viral testing facilities available and that published data only represent a small portion of the total.

How do you know whether your child has H3N2?

Unfortunately, H3N2 lacks pathognomonic signs and symptoms. It is far more difficult to differentiate between the symptoms of the disease, H3N2, and the common cold, seasonal flu, or even mild cases of Covid-19. High-grade fever, chills, myalgia, sore throat, runny nose, cough, loose stools, and vomiting are some of these symptoms. H3N2 symptoms can become more severe and persistent in certain kids, requiring hospitalization. Lethargy, poor feeding, respiratory issues, chest tightness, or persistent high fever are a few of these. Your doctor may prescribe tests to enable diagnosis if required.

How does this disease spread?

The virus is highly contagious. Spread it via infected droplets and may include spread from surfaces contaminated with respiratory secretions.

How can you protect children?

To keep yourself and your family safe during the ongoing outbreak, follow these basic precautions:

1. Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced, healthy diet.
2. Always practice good hand hygiene, especially after touching public surfaces, by often washing your hands or using a hand rub.
3. Avoid social events and public areas.
4. If you must attend public events, wear a face mask.

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Influenza in children
Keep your family protected. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. Spend the first 5-7 days of your illness at home to avoid spreading an infection to others.
6. If you have a fever, cough, or cold, stay away from young children, the elderly, and anyone who has ongoing medical conditions. When interacting, cover your face.
7. Avoid using self-medication (do not take antibiotics without advice from a doctor).
8. When feeling unwell, see your doctor and describe your symptoms.
9. See your doctor right away if you experience any respiratory distress symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, lowering oxygen saturation levels, a lack of appetite or drinking, or altered awareness.

Vaccination is a must to prevent influenza

The most vital pillar for protection against diseases is immunization. In India, trivalent and quadrivalent inactivated influenza virus vaccinations are approved for use and advised for all children over the age of six months. Your child will receive two doses of the flu vaccine when receiving it for the first time (often between the ages of 6 months and 1 year), and after that, annual vaccinations are indicated.

Every year, a new strain of the vaccine is available, so you should make sure your children have the shot, ideally before flu season starts. The H1NI and H3N2 strains of influenza A as well as 1 or 2 strains of influenza B are covered by the vaccine sold in Indian markets.

Influenza in children
Make sure your child is vaccinated. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.

Ideally, all individuals should receive an annual flu shot, and those at high risk for serious illness, such as young children under the age of 5, elderly people over 65, pregnant women, or people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes or immunocompromised, should absolutely and strongly be recommended doing so. It is wise for all adults to get immunized during epidemics like the one we are presently experiencing so that those at risk are protected from exposure.

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About the Author

Dr Somalika Pal, Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology and Paediatrics, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, New Delhi (East of Kailash) ...Read More

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