Swine flu strikes Waiheke

01:00, Aug 18 2010
FLU
WELL-NEEDED REST: Lily Pieren, 3, is recovering from winter colds and croup that has seen her home-bound on and off over the past two months.

HEALTH professionals are warning residents to stay vigilant against signs of the swine flu.

The World Health Organisation says the swine flu pandemic has moved into the post-pandemic phase globally, but not in New Zealand.

Island doctors say general flu numbers are up 20 percent compared to last year and school absenteeism peaked earlier this month, with up to 80 children away from Te Huruhi Primary School and 62 from Waiheke Primary School.

Waiheke Kindergarten and Waiheke Community Childcare have also reported drastically reduced numbers because of illness.

Teaching staff have also been severely affected.

Child health nurse Cathie Williams confirms the figures are unusual, saying there has been an unprecedented number of young children sick on the island this winter.

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Waiheke mum Cathie Jones has had her three-year-old daughter Lily and five-year-old son Jamie home sick for nearly four weeks in the past two months.

She says: "I think it's best to keep the kids away from other kids when they have a cold or flu-like symptoms. It is also important they don't catch anything else while their immune system is already compromised."

Hauraki Gulf Island's councillor Denise Roche has first-hand experience of the virus. Her cousin's wife died of swine flu in Tauranga in June. She was 48 and not physically compromised.

Ms Roche says: "Ironically I was so sick with it myself I was unable to travel to the funeral."

The virus debilitated Ms Roche for a month.

"For the first time I wished I'd had a flu shot because this flu affected my breathing – which has never happened to me before and it was quite scary."

Waiheke Health Trust manager Dawn Rigby says the flu season started late this year.

She says people with chronic conditions are more susceptible to complications and reminds islanders that flu vaccinations are available for adults and children.

"The low uptake for vaccinations may be putting our community more at risk," Ms Rigby says.

Vaccinations are expected to run out by the end of the month, but the Health Ministry is looking at options for extending immunisation while demand continues.

Some countries have seen the virus decline or crowded out by other flu strains but this is not the case in New Zealand where the prevalent flu strain is the H1N1 virus or swine flu.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan said on August 10: "In the post-pandemic period, localised outbreaks of different magnitude may show significant levels of H1N1 transmission. This is the situation we are observing right now in New Zealand."

More than 300 people have been admitted to hospital in New Zealand this year in a second wave of confirmed H1N1 diagnoses, including 30 serious cases. Six people have died.

The Health Ministry confirms the country has not moved into a post pandemic phase.

However, as many adults have been immunised and up to 50 percent of children have been previously exposed, New Zealand is only experiencing outbreaks in isolated pockets.

WHO also confirms the virus did not mutate during the pandemic to a more lethal form.

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