Swazi Observer - - FEATURES & OPINION -

BA­BIES are at twice the risk of suf­fer­ing se­vere flu if they have an older brother or sis­ter, a study found.

Chil­dren are 'ef­fec­tive spread­ers' and can eas­ily pass viruses onto their vul­ner­a­ble younger sib­lings, re­searchers said.

Flu can be life-threat­en­ing in young chil­dren be­cause it can cause lung in­fec­tions, breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and high fever, which can lead to fits.

Be­tween three per cent and 11 per cent of ba­bies and toddlers in de­vel­oped coun­tries ac­quire flu-as­so­ci­ated ill­nesses each year, plac­ing a heavy bur­den on health ser­vices.

Al­most half of all cases of se­vere flu in ba­bies un­der six months old are caught from older sib­lings, ac­cord­ing to a study by Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don's Great Or­mond In­sti­tute of Child Health. Chil­dren are 'ef­fec­tive spread­ers' and can eas­ily pass viruses onto their vul­ner­a­ble younger sib­lings, Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don re­searchers said.

Ex­perts warned par­ents the find­ings showed the im­por­tance of get­ting older chil­dren vac­ci­nated to pro­tect ba­bies in the fam­ily – who usu­ally are not given a flu vac­cine be­fore the age of two.

Lead re­searcher Dr Pia Hardelid said, “Flu can be a se­ri­ous in­fec­tion in very young chil­dren but at the mo­ment there is no vac­cine ap­proved for ba­bies un­der six months. This means we need to look at other ways to min­imise the risk of in­fec­tion.”

For those with two or more older sib­lings, the risk tripled.

There was around one ex­tra hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sion for ev­ery thou­sand chil­dren who had one older sib­ling. In those with two older sib­lings, there were two ex­tra ad­mis­sions per 1 000 chil­dren.

Ba­bies born be­tween July and De­cem­ber – who would be young and vul­ner­a­ble at the start of the flu sea­son – were also at higher risk.

Nasal spray vac­cines

Since 2013, nasal spray flu vac­cines have been given to chil­dren aged be­tween two and nine on the NHS. Some ar­eas are rolling out the vac­cine to all pri­mary school-age chil­dren.

It is also of­fered to those aged up to 17 and from six months to two years who are con­sid­ered high risk be­cause of ex­ist­ing chronic health prob­lems.

The re­searchers said vac­ci­nat­ing older chil­dren could have a pro­tec­tive ef­fect on ba­bies and toddlers. Preg­nant women could also have the vac­cine to help build up their baby's im­mu­nity.

The im­por­tance of the flu jab

Dr Hardelid added: “Our study sug­gests that older sib­lings pose a risk of se­ri­ous in­fec­tion for their baby sis­ters and broth­ers.

“The nasal spray vac­cine, which is now be­ing of­fered in GP surg­eries and pri­mary schools in the UK, pro­vides a good op­por­tu­nity to pro­tect the chil­dren who re­ceive it, as well as their younger sib­lings.

“There is not much par­ents can do about the time of year their baby is born, but women can also help re­duce the risk of se­ri­ous flu for their new­borns by tak­ing up the in­vi­ta­tion to have a vac­cine when they are still preg­nant.

“There is some ev­i­dence that ma­ter­nal vac­ci­na­tion dur­ing preg­nancy can pro­tect young ba­bies from flu in­fec­tion.”

Rates of hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sion were also higher for chil­dren aged six to 23 months with older sib­lings, but the as­so­ci­a­tion for this age group was much weaker.

Fur­ther re­search will test whether the in­tro­duc­tion of the vac­cine for chil­dren aged two and older can help re­duce cases of flu among un­der­t­wos.

The study was pub­lished in the Euro­pean Res­pi­ra­tory Jour­nal.

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