There is an outbreak of influenza in New Zealand with Christchurch and Auckland being the most affected, but Wellington is beginning to show signs of spread also.
Influenza is a viral disease and the particular virus which seems to be causing this outbreak is the H3N2 variety. This is an Influenza A virus, and is one of the viruses that is covered in this year's vaccine. Therefore, if you have had the flu vaccination this year, you should be protected.
Influenza is starting to appear where people congregate such as rest homes, schools and creches.
Influenza is very easily passed from person to person by coughing or sneezing or sometimes touching a surface the virus is on. Thus even pushing a supermarket trolley or holding on to the rail in a bus can pass on the virus.
Preventing the spread of influenza means washing your hands often, not touching your nose or mouth, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing with your forearm, and never sharing a drink. Use tissues instead of hankies if possible.
Influenza is not a simple cold. When a healthy person develops influenza, the symptoms are a very marked fever often above 38 degrees Celsius, muscular aches and pains, sore throat, and intense fatigue and malaise. For the elderly or infirm their temperature may not be so raised.
For most people management of influenza does not mean antibiotics. It means going to bed, drinking copious amounts of fluid and taking time off work both for your sake and for those around you so that you do not pass influenza around the workplace.
Recovery takes about four to five days; not all of which needs to be spent in bed but probably a good part of it.
For the very young and the infirm, often complications may arise such as chest infections, pneumonia, ear infections and secondary throat infections; and in these cases antibiotics may well be needed.
If you don't improve after four or five days, if you have a temperature settling and then spiking up again, then it is time to see your doctor.
A major problem for parents and doctors is that the signs and symptoms of influenza may be virtually identical to much more serious conditions such as meningitis.
For this reason if you have a young child who has become quite sick with a fever, is refusing food and not drinking, they should see a doctor.
Signs like a developing rash are very worrying and should be checked out immediately, but remember the rash of meningitis is often a late symptom of the disease.
So, if you are unwell, have a temperature and think you may be getting the flu, stay home. This outbreak of H3N2 is potentially more of a problem because older people have not been exposed to this virus the way they have been exposed to other such viruses and may be more susceptible to it. If ever there was a case for having the flu vaccination, this has to be it. The vaccine is free to those aged over 65, pregnant women and people with serious health conditions, but this ends on July 31, so if you qualify, get it as soon as possible.
Chris Kalderimis is a Wellington GP
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which of these best describes your home?Related story: Homes may be making children sick