Authorities prepare for flu strain

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 11:57 16/01/2013

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New Zealand is preparing for a second round with a potentially deadly flu strain now sweeping North America.

About 20 children have died from influenza in the United States as the H3N2 strain puts thousands of people in hospital during the northern hemisphere winter.

About 7.3 per cent of all deaths in the US last week are believed to be related to influenza and pneumonia.

National Influenza Specialist Group virologist Lance Jennings, of Christchurch, said from an influenza conference in the US that there was a ''lot of concern'' there about the virus, which had caused widespread infection across 47 states.

However, the deadly strain hit New Zealanders last winter.

''New Zealand has been exposed to this virus already. It's not a new virus,'' he said.

The virus was believed to be the Victoria strain, which saw about 430 people admitted to Christchurch Hospital last year and more than 50 people put in isolation.

New Zealanders were most at risk of influenza in June, July and August.

Jennings said health authorities started preparing for the flu season ''in advance'', with flu vaccines becoming available in March.

The new vaccine would include the H3N2 strain.

''We are always playing catchup with vaccines, but it's a system that works,'' he said.

''You can never predict the changes in influenza viruses, as you can't predict the severity of the coming influenza season. What is important is that we do have strategies to limit the impact of influenza.''

Influenza vaccines are free to pregnant women, adults with long-term health conditions and people aged over 65,  and those groups in particular should get vaccinated every year, Jennings said.

''In the United States, this season has followed mild seasons and there's a degree of complacency that's crept in ... and it illustrates how we should not become complacent about influenza. It's a disease that affects New Zealanders annually,'' he said.

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- The Press

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