Wellington pupils laid low by flu outbreak

18:59, Jul 31 2012

Schools have joined rest homes in being struck down by outbreaks of flu.

Six outbreaks have been reported to Regional Public Health in the Wellington area since the start of the winter flu season, medical officer of health Annette Nesdale said.

A primary school in Porirua had a quarter of its pupils off sick for one week. Tests later confirmed the outbreak was caused by the A(H3N2) strain. That strain tends to be more severe in children, the elderly and people with health complications.

Dr Nesdale said the main symptoms being reported in the community were sudden sore throats, headaches, fevers and coughs. Some people were also suffering vomiting and stomach pains.

Flu had spread rampantly at three rest homes in Porirua, she said.

Others in the Hutt Valley and Kapiti Coast had also reported outbreaks of the virus, which killed a healthy Wellington woman last week.

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Catherine McIlroy, 49, died from organ failure after contracting the A(H3N2) strain. She was the first healthy person to die from flu at Wellington Hospital this year.

Her husband Mark is now urging people to get the seasonal flu vaccine as his wife's fear of needles stopped her getting it.

Nationally, 980,920 shots had been administered by the end of last week, about 10,000 fewer than at the same time last year. National Influenza Specialist Group virologist Lance Jennings said the vaccine offered 90 per cent protection against three strains: A(H3N2), influenza B and H1N1, or swine flu.

Vaccines cost between $25 and $30 for people who are not eligible to get it free.

The Health Ministry extended free seasonal flu vaccinations by a month, until the end of August, after a large increase in the number of people catching flu, especially in Auckland and Canterbury.

The free vaccination programme had cost the Health Ministry $17.4 million so far this year. It cost $18.4m last year, which included the cost of vaccines plus payments to health professionals for administering them.

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Contact Bronwyn Torrie
Health reporter
Email: bronwyn.torrie@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @brontorrie

The Dominion Post