What is a flu?
Influenza, commonly called flu, is a highly infectious viral illness which mainly occurs in the winter months. Seasonal flu can be more serious for children with certain longterm health conditions.
Flu usually starts suddenly with symptoms such as fever (often high in children), chills, muscles aches, headaches, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and cough. Flu is spread by coughs and sneezes from people who are already infected with the virus.
How serious is flu?
For most people, flu is an unpleasant illness, with the main symptoms lasting about one to two weeks. For others, including children receiving treatment for cancer, influenza can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia
, which may result in admission to hospital for antibiotic therapy and delays to cancer therapy. Occasionally the infection can be extremely serious.
Who should be vaccinated?
Children with cancer have a higher risk than healthy children of developing flu. Current UK guidelines recommend that the vaccine be given annually to those in whom the illness is likely to be more serious, including children with cancer, whose immunity is lowered due to disease or treatment.
It is also recommended for children who have completed chemotherapy in the last six months and following bone marrow transplantation. It is not recommended for children less than six months old. Parents/carers and siblings should also be vaccinated.
How does the vaccine work?
If the vaccine works well the body will make antibodies to the flu viruses, which will help to protect against influenza following contact with it. This protection lasts for about a year.
How effective is the vaccine?
The use of chemotherapy may impair the body’s ability to respond to the vaccine. For children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and for solid tumours, including lymphoma, we now know that the vaccine works nearly as well as in healthy children, although it will not protect all children against influenza.
How is the vaccine given?
Your child will receive two (one, if previously immunised or over 13 years of age) injections of the influenza vaccine under the skin of the arm or leg four to six weeks apart. This should be done at your family doctor (GP) surgery.
Can the flu vaccine cause flu?
No. The vaccine does not contain any live virus, so cannot cause flu.
Are there any side effects from the vaccine?
Flu vaccinations are generally very safe. Reactions to the vaccine are usually mild, if they occur at all, and include soreness at the injection site, slight fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after being vaccinated. Your child should not receive the vaccine if he/she is allergic to egg as there is a risk of a serious allergic reaction.
When is the best time to be vaccinated?
The best time to be vaccinated is between late September and early November, ready for the winter. The first injection is usually given at a time when the child is not neutropenic (that is, neutrophils should be above 1.0 x 109/L).
If you would like to discuss flu vaccination further, please speak to your child’s consultant.
This year there will be both a seasonal flu vaccine and when it becomes available a swine flu vaccine. Our expectation is children on treatment, those who have recently completed treatment and their immediate families will be one of the priority groups for the vaccination against swine flu. We will contact families once we have confirmation.
Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: May 2010
Ref: 2010F0455 © GOSH Trust May 2010
Compiled by the Haematology/Oncology department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group
This information does not constitute health or medical advice and will not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. If you have any questions, please ask your doctor. No liability can be taken as a result of using this information.