Saffy Sheiakh, now age 4, spent more than a week in the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital after being admitted with both persistent high temperatures and cough.
Her mum Maryam, a teacher, said: “We were initially sent to A&E because Saffy had five days of high temperatures and a cough. She just wasn’t getting any better.
“They took swabs that showed she had flu; we were shocked because I just didn’t think flu was as serious as it was and believed it was something more like a common cold.”
Saffy was admitted to a ward and over the following days her condition worsened, and was struggling to breathe without assistance. The youngster was taken to the HDU (High Dependency Unit) where she was given oxygen.
Maryam said: “For a while I thought I was going to lose her and it was really terrifying. Thankfully she did recover quite well and we’ve been very fortunate. But our little girl was still very seriously poorly.”
Speaking as Saffy completed her recovery, Maryam added: “It’s been very stressful. I’ve not slept, I’ve not eaten, I’m anxious and I have been absolutely terrified. I genuinely thought my daughter was going to die.”
Maryam has shared her experience to warn other parents that flu can be really serious for young children, and to encourage them to get them the flu vaccination.
“I would definitely recommend getting a vaccination because it prevents the severity of your child coming to hospital and potentially being put on a ventilator.”
Dr Paddy McMaster, Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at North Manchester General Hospital, said that over his career he has seen many children very ill with flu, and parents shocked at the severity of the illness.
“I see the children who are either the sickest or at risk of being very sick with infections such as influenza and covid.
“Every winter is difficult for us. We have so many admissions coming to hospital. It’s so stressful seeing a young child having difficulty breathing and needing to give them support with a mask on the face. And then when they just get so exhausted they need to have full respiratory support and go to intensive care.”
He added that when young children catch flu they are more likely to be hospitalised than any other group: “I’ve seen how devastating flu can be first hand. I would encourage parents of young children to get them a flu vaccination as a priority.”
The flu vaccine is available to children aged two and three at their GP surgery, and primary school children are offered it at school. Children of all ages who have an underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable to flu can get the vaccine.
It is administered as a quick nasal spray. An injectable alternative is available to children whose families may have concerns over gelatine content in the spray.
Dr Helen Wall is a GP and leads on screening and immunisations for NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care.
She said: “Saffy’s story is a stark reminder about how dangerous flu can be for young children. We have already seen dozens of children hospitalised across Greater Manchester.
“All of that can be avoided with the flu vaccination for children. It is a simple nasal spray that offers great protection from flu for the child, and helps stop them spreading it to other youngsters or vulnerable family members.
“To get it just pick up the phone to your GP and get them booked in as soon as you can. If they’re offered it at school I would strongly urge parents to sign the consent form.”
Find out more about the flu vaccine for children at Kids Flu Vaccine – Greater Manchester (kidsfluvaccinegm.co.uk) or Child flu vaccine – NHS (www.nhs.uk).