Today I have had confirmation of staff and students having returned positive results for Influenza A and also Influenza type B. While the initial symptoms are fairly similar Influenza B has the potential to cause quite severe and potentially life threatening complications especially in small and unvaccinated children. There is no need for panic or undue concern but please be aware of the following and see the attached information. Students and staff with Influenza must be excluded from school and can only return with a medical clearance (often in 5-10 days).
Most children should have been vaccinated for this in their childhood immunisation schedule and would be less likely to contract the illness or at worst have a less severe episode.
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a bacterium that causes a life-threatening infection that can lead to serious illness, especially in children. Conditions such as meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain), epiglottitis (inflammation of the flap and the top of the windpipe) and pneumonia can develop very quickly and may require urgent medical attention.
The disease caused by Hib is spread mainly through coughing or sneezing, or contact with secretions from the nose and throat of an infected person. Despite its name, Hib is a bacterium and is not a form of influenza (flu), which is caused by a virus.
Before the introduction of Hib immunisation in 1993, Hib was a common cause of life-threatening infection in children under five. Routine immunisation has been highly effective in reducing the incidence of this disease in Australia. Children under five years of age and people at increased risk of developing Hib infection should still be immunised.
Symptoms of Hib infection
Seek urgent medical attention if you suspect your child has symptoms including:
- severe headache
- stiff neck
- convulsions (fits) or seizures
- severe drowsiness
- difficulty waking up
- loss of consciousness
- difficulty with breathing.
Complications of Hib infection
If your child is not immunised and contracts Hib, they could develop:
- meningitis – an infection of the membrane covering the brain (signs include fever, stiff neck, drowsiness, irritability and refusal of food)
- epiglottitis – inflammation of the flap at the top of the windpipe (epiglottis), which can block a child's breathing (signs include severe breathing difficulties, fever, restlessness and irritability)
- pneumonia – lung inflammation (symptoms include fever, cough, chest pains and breathing problems, such as shortness of breath)
- septic arthritis – joint infection (symptoms include joint pain, swelling and reduced mobility of the joint)
- cellulitis – infection of the tissue under the skin, usually on the face.
These complications can develop quickly and, if left untreated, your child could die in a short period of time.
Influenza A is caused by infection with a virus. It is often called ‘the flu’.
There are three types of influenza virus: A, B and C. Influenza A is more serious than B and C. It is the only type known to cause widespread outbreaks.
The influenza virus is always changing and evolving. In Australia, a new strain comes out each winter.
As well as infecting people, influenza A virus can infect animals, including birds (causing avian flu) and pigs (causing swine flu, H1N1). In some cases, these types of influenza can be passed on to humans.
Influenza A symptoms
If you have influenza, you will have some or all of these symptoms:
- fever and chills
- headache and muscle aches
- feeling tired and weak
- sneezing, and stuffy or runny nose
- sore throat and cough.
- Children may also have abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
It’s a bit like a very bad cold, but a cold doesn’t give you aches and pains.
If your symptoms get worse instead of better, it’s best to see a doctor. You should also get help straight away if you feel chest pain, short of breath, dizzy or confused, or you are vomiting a lot.
Influenza A treatment
If you have influenza, you are likely to get better within a week or so by:
- resting in bed
- taking mild pain killers to relieve your pain
- drinking plenty of liquids
- eating light foods, when you’re hungry.
In some people, the flu can be severe and lead to serious complications like pneumonia. This is mostly likely to affect the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, Indigenous people, and people with chronic health problems.
If this sounds like you, your doctor might give you antiviral treatment to reduce your symptoms and prevent complications.
Please encourage students exhibiting these symptoms to stay at home until they are well. Remember panadol and nurofen reduce the symptoms which include headaches, aches and pains, fever and sore throat but neither of these will make the flu less contagious. Hand washing and good hygiene remains the best way to prevent the spread of flu.