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Boosting Your Child's Immune System


Is there a need for vaccination against the common ailments like flu, chicken pox, etc? Children are our most precious gift. As parents and health professionals, we want to do our utmost to keep children strong and healthy. How can we promote their health and increase their resistance to infections? This is an especially timely question in view of the recent outbreaks of infections both locally in the region and worldwide.

Polio outbreaks were seen recently in Indonesia and the recent publicity over the emergence of new viruses such as bird flu has garnered international coverage and publicity. Babies are born with an immature immune system but are protected by the transfer of their mothers' antibodies across the placenta. It makes sense then that ensuring the best health for your baby starts in pregnancy.

Expectant mothers should eat a healthy diet and get as much rest as possible whilst having medical care in pregnancy to minimise any risks to the mother and unborn baby. Smoking in pregnancy is a very bad idea. It can harm your baby and cause your baby to have a smaller birth weight. A full-term normal-sized baby has a much better defence against infection than a premature baby.

Boosting Immunity

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the optimal choice for feeding newborn babies and allows transfer of maternal immunoglobulins to the baby. It is a worthwhile lifetime investment for your child's health. Some mothers cannot or do not wish to fully breastfeed but the evidence shows that babies who receive even 20% of their milk as breast milk retain an advantage compared to fully bottle-fed babies. Therefore, it is worth persevering with breastfeeding even when the baby is happily taking formula milk.

Healthy Diet

As children grow, it is important to ensure that they have a good diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This can be a challenge, as many children will choose French fries and chicken nuggets over steamed fresh chicken, rice and vegetable. But, it is worth trying to offer healthy choices, as diet is a wonderful way to strengthen our children's immune systems.

Proper Hygiene

When a child enters a childcare centre they often experience frequent viral infection during the first six to 12 months. This is normal and the child will build up his own immunity by exposure to these viruses. Although it is worrying and upsetting for the parents, the child will continue to thrive in spite of the viral infections. Teaching good hand washing with soap after toileting and before eating is a useful step. But, it is in fact impossible to prevent transmission of viruses in a pre-school or childcare environment.

Vaccination

Hepatitis B

Vaccination protects the baby against hepatitis B infection of the liver, which can be a life-threatening infection. Some people who recover from Hepatitis B are left as carriers, while some others go on to develop liver cancer. If the mother is a carrier for Hepatitis B, the baby will require additional injections and a higher dose of the vaccination.

Hepatitis A

It is a milder form of hepatitis compared to Hepatitis B. Vaccinating against Hepatitis A is useful if the family is travelling.

Chickenpox

it is normally a self-limiting disease in young children and is common in worldwide. The child can be vaccinated after the age of one year and the vaccine is safe and protective. I advise all women of childbearing age to ensure that they are immune or vaccinated against chickenpox before conception. This is because if chickenpox is contracted during pregnancy, it can damage the unborn baby. Chickenpox is also very dangerous for newborns and young babies. The most important benefit of vaccinating a three-year-old child may be that it protects the younger baby sibling from chicken pox.

Influenza

It is also normally a self-limiting disease in young children. The current advice for influenza is to vaccinate children with special medical needs, e.g. asthma or heart problems, annually. There is no evidence that the current flu vaccines will be effective against bird flu and we would have to wait for a new vaccine to be developed if we face a bird flu pandemic.

Other Newer Vaccines

They are also available. These include the Rotavirus and the Streptococcal vaccines. Rotavirus vaccine is for protection against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis. Rotavirus infection is common in children younger than five years of age and the infection can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting with complications such as dehydration. Vaccination will protect the children against severe diarrhoea. Streptococcal vaccine is for protecting against invasive infection by bacteria belonging to the group called streptococcus.

Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal disease describes a group of illnesses caused by the common bacterium, pneumococcus. It is a serious infection that occurs most commonly in children, particularly in those under two years of age. It can cause meningitis (infection of the spinal cord or brain membranes), bacteremic pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) as well as inflammation of the lungs, the middle ear and the sinuses. If left untreated, pneumococcal diseases may cause hearing loss, learning disabilities, speech delays, paralysis and even death.

Protection

A vaccination against pneumococcal disease has now been made available. Feel free to request for advice from your paediatrician before getting your child vaccinated.

 

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