After-effects of flu to last 'until Christmas'

Canterbury's heaviest influenza season in 10 years will keep doctors busy until the end of the year, a primary care leader says.

Dr Phil Schroeder, of the Canterbury primary response group, said the flu outbreak was over but nagging infections and respiratory problems would "keep GPs busy through till Christmas".

"When we have a winter like the one we just had, then we have to expect to see slightly heightened demand for the rest of the year because of ongoing issues from the people who suffered from the flu," he said.

The region's flu outbreak, excluding the two swine flu years of 2009 and 2010, was "the worst in about 10 years".

"We got hit very hard and it was a double whammy really because on top of the high flu levels we were also seeing about four other viruses that were causing a lot of problems."

Parainfluenza, whooping cough, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus were also "very present in the community" this winter.

GPs had coped remarkably well with the outbreak, Schroeder said.

The earthquakes had made the health system more vulnerable but had also prompted new initiatives.

"This winter St John had a diversion system in place which meant people were diverted from the hospital to primary care, and that seemed to work very well.

"It's really important that we keep the pressure off the hospital so we know it is there in emergency situations."

There have been 430 flu hospitalisations since June compared with about 65 in the 2011 winter.

Canterbury District Health Board director of nursing Heather Gray said this year's flu peak hit quickly and resulted in "very high levels" of admissions.

"Fortunately, we have not experienced a second peak or recurrence of our first wave admission rate and do not expect to get one now we're into September."

The board had experienced "fairly high levels" of sick leave among staff, she said.

"To add to the challenges this flu season, we had a number of norovirus cases happening at the same time as the influenza influx, leading to close to 100 patients in isolation at the peak in June."

However, gridlock at Christchurch Hospital was avoided, she said.

The Press