Influenza rates in Canterbury soar

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 12:51 04/07/2012
flu
Don Scott

CONCERNS: Nurse Shanti McGrath administers a flu jab at Moorhouse Medical Centre.

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Influenza rates in Canterbury have soared in the past week and are now above the national average.

A handful of swine flu cases have also been reported.

The national average stands at about 20 cases per 100,000 people.

Last week, the Canterbury average jumped to 50 cases per 100,000.

Canterbury District Health Board  planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery said the number of people suffering from influenza had increased in the past week.

''We had been tracking below the national average, but now we've gone above it, which is not a good sign for us,'' she said.

''It's definitely causing concern and we'll be monitoring it closely over the coming weeks.''

The board would continue to encourage people to have flu vaccinations, she said, but immunisation rates were below last year's levels.

''There's been less take-up with the under-18 age group,'' she said. ''Last year was really good, but this year hasn't been a repeat of that.''

Greg Hamilton, from the planning and funding team, said people were still ''very much in recovery mode'' last year.

''GPs last year weren't as busy so they had more time to be part of the earthquake response and do proactive work. This year they are much busier.''

This could be a reason why immunisation rates had dropped, he said.

Canterbury's health system was ''starting to feel the squeeze'', he said.

Board virologist Lance Jennings said the number of people with influenza had trebled in the last week of June, from 10 per cent to 40 per cent.

Canterbury was currently above the national levels for 2012 and 2011, he said.

He said most flu cases were the seasonal strain, but there had been three cases of H1N1, the swine flu strain.

Hospital admissions were increasing, he said, from 23 people in May to 38 last month.

Jennings could not say whether anyone had died from influenza.

''It's too early to give any figures on any morbidity as it can take some time to establish whether a death is influenza-related,'' he said.

''Typically, about 400 people [nationwide] a year die from complications of a flu-related illness.''

Christchurch resident David Killick said the flu had hit him ''like a freight train''.

''It lasted two weeks and then I got bronchitis and had to have antibiotics,'' he said.

Killick and his wife had both contracted flu despite having  flu vaccinations.

Another Christchurch resident, Christine Pearson, said she was recovering from a bout of the virus, but her 72-year-old father was ''having trouble kicking it''.

''His [flu] was secondary to a previous infection in the lungs and he's done the third round of medication and it's still not kicking it off,'' she said

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