Influenza and Children

Of all vaccine preventable diseases, influenza is the leading cause of hospitalisation among Australian children under five years of age.

Immunisation Coalition

Symptoms of influenza in children?

Influenza symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches and pains.[1]

In children symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.[2]

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1 National Institute of Clinical Studies. Flu Facts. Last viewed: March 2009.

2 NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition 2013.

How serious is seasonal influenza for children?

Influenza causes substantial illness in children every year. [3]

Of all vaccine preventable diseases, influenza is the leading cause of hospitalisation among Australian children under five years of age. [4]

Children are much more likely to contract influenza in any given season (20-50% compared with 10-30% in adults), with up to 70% of children contracting the virus during pandemic years.[5]

Not only are influenza infection rates generally highest among children, children also contribute greatly to transmission of influenza in the community. [6][7]

Healthy children under five years are more likely than any other age group to be hospitalised for influenza complications.[3][6]

Nearly 1,500 Australian children are admitted to hospital for laboratory confirmed influenza each year.[8]

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3 Milne BG, Williams S, May M et al. Influenza A associated morbidity and mortality in a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. CDI 2004;28(4):504 -508

Brotherton J, Wang H, Schaffer A et al. Vaccine preventable diseases and vaccination coverage in Australia, 2003 to 2005. Communicable Diseases Intelligence 2007;31(Suppl)

Neuzil KM, Hohlbein C, Zhu Y. Illness Among Schoolchildren During Influenza Season. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002;156:986-991

Principi N, Esposito S, Gasparini R et al. Burden of influenza in healthy children and their households, Arch Dis Child 2004;89:1002-1007

Weycker D, Edelsberg J, Halloran M et al. Population-wide benefits of routine vaccination of children against influenza, Vaccine 2005; 23: 1284-1293

Newell AT, Scuffham PA. Influenza-related disease: The cost to the Australian healthcare system. Vaccine 2008; 26 (52):6818-6823

How can you reduce a child’s risk of catching influenza?

Vaccination is the single most effective way of protecting against influenza infection.

Hand washing and personal hygiene, such as trying not to touch your mouth or nose are also important preventative measures, however, these are less likely to be practised by children.

Where possible, avoid crowds when influenza is prevalent; again this is unlikely to be achieved with children attending day care, kindergarten or school.

Note: In controlled clinical trials remedies such as vitamin C and Echinacea have failed to show any benefit in preventing influenza.

Which children should be vaccinated against influenza?

Current Australian immunisation guidelines recommend annual influenza vaccination for anyone who wishes to protect themselves, which includes children aged ≥six months.

It is critical that children at particular risk of severe complications from influenza are vaccinated, including those with:

  • Heart conditions
  • Asthma and other lung conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
  • Kidney problems
  • Impaired immunity

Pregnant women should also get vaccinated against influenza, including those in the first trimester at the time of vaccination and there is evidence that this may provide some protection for the new-born infant.[9]

People who care for or are in close contact with at-risk individuals, are also advised to protect themselves against influenza to avoid passing on the disease.

Many other parents of healthy children aged ≥6 months may also wish to get their children vaccinated – this is within National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines.

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9 Zaman K, Roy E, Arifeen SE et al. Effectiveness of maternal influenza immunization in mothers and infants. N Engl J Med 2008; 359(15):1555-1564

What can parents do if their child falls ill with influenza?

Influenza is highly contagious and can be spread for up to a day before symptoms appear and for five days afterwards – potentially even longer among young children.

Ways to avoid spreading influenza include:

  • Wash hands regularly
  • Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid physical contact with others
  • Avoid mixing with other people, particularly those in a high-risk category, while contagious
  • Don’t return children to child care early, as they could still be contagious

Antiviral medications (including paediatric formulations) that can limit the progression of influenza if they are taken early after onset of symptoms (within the first two days of the illness) are available on prescription.

Page Published: 26 March 2018 | Page Updated: 10 July 2020