Flu season starts to hit with 3 people in hospital

Three people have been admitted to Taranaki Base Hospital with swine flu so far this season.

But national data shows influenza levels are still on the low side, Taranaki District Health Board public health medicine specialist Jonathan Jarman said.

"We are only just starting to enter what is called the ‘flu season'."

Swine flu, or H1N1, is not as deadly as it used to be because a vaccine has been available for four years and a lot of people now have some immunity, he said.

In 2009 the H1N1 strain was a new virus that infected a lot of people around the world in a short period of time. "At the time we did not know how severe it was going to be and no-one had any immunity to it. Also in 2009 there was no vaccine."

And though the swine flu virus in 2009 was not as bad as expected it still made a lot of people very unwell, Jarman said.

"People died from it. Many intensive care units in Australasia saw cases admitted with influenza particularly among those with pre-existing illnesses and pregnant women."

The most common flu virus being identified this year is the H1N1 strain from 2009, Jarman said.

"This strain has a bit of a kick and can put healthy adults into hospital. The people normally at risk from the complications of influenza are the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and people with long-term illnesses."

Vaccination is the best protection against influenza and the vaccine provides protection against two other strains of influenza as well as H1N1.

About 400 deaths each year in New Zealand are related to influenza infection and one out of five people get the flu each year.

Taranaki Daily News