Doctors urge vaccination as 'killer' virus looms
Doctors are worried a killer flu that led to the death of 64 children in the United States will hit New Zealand's shores this winter.
Waikato DHB medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble said she was concerned about the deadly serious virus hitting at any stage, despite the warm weather sticking around.
"The timing of New Zealand's influenza season is unpredictable but we may see the disease arriving earlier than usual as has happened in the northern hemisphere," she said.
US numbers showed that people 65 and over accounted for more than half of all reported influenza-associated hospitalisations - the highest number since records began in 2005. The next highest group were children under four years old.
But although elderly and very young patients were particularly vulnerable, Dr Dumble said that everyone should be taking steps to prevent themselves from catching the virus. "No matter how fit and healthy you are, we are all at risk of catching this disease," said Dr Dumble. "Influenza vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk of catching this disease and lessen symptoms and complications if you do."
The 2013 vaccine arrived in GP surgeries across New Zealand this week and immunisation is free from a GP or nurse for New Zealanders at high risk of complications - pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and for people of any age with long-term health conditions.
"It takes two weeks to develop immunity following vaccination so being vaccinated before the season starts will gain you the most benefit," Dr Dumble said. Along with the fear of a deadly flu, Waikato is seeing increasing cases of pertussis (whooping cough).
The latest Public Health Bulletin shows Waikato had 63 reported cases in February, up 41 on the same month last year with 124 since July 1 last year.
"We had the second-highest notification rate in New Zealand last month.
"We encourage pregnant women to ask their doctor about the free pertussis vaccine when receiving their influenza vaccine. Both vaccines are recommended and funded for pregnant women, as the viruses cause high risk to mother and baby and are circulating at epidemic levels."