Influenza has claimed the life of one Cantabrian two months before the annual flu season is set to strike.
News of the death comes as unprecedented numbers of Kiwis are lining up for the flu jab and as new figures reveal five Cantabrians died from influenza-associated illnesses last year.
The Press understands Carole Mary Burgess, who was in her mid-70s, contracted the deadly H3N2 influenza virus before she died in Christchurch Hospital on March 27.
Bereaved family members confirmed Burgess was diagnosed with influenza but that they did not want to comment further.
Last year Canterbury was hit with an influenza H3N2 outbreak four times the national average and 347 people wound up in hospital.
The flu strain then hit the United States, where hundreds of people died from influenza-associated illnesses, including more than 100 children.
As New Zealand prepares for its second bout of the killer flu strain, a Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) preliminary internal review shows five Cantabrians who died last year had laboratory-confirmed influenza.
CDHB clinical virologist Lance Jennings also confirmed a laboratory test had found one patient in Christchurch died from influenza H3N2 last month.
Influenza can infect Kiwis throughout the year and is often spread by travellers returning from overseas or disembarking cruise ships, he said.
The normal influenza season begins in June and Jennings urged Cantabrians to get immunised as soon as possible because the seasonal vaccine "provides our best protection against influenza".
So far this year, the vaccine is "flowing out the doors" of medical centres across the country and Jennings believed this was because of the media attention surrounding influenza since Canterbury's record outbreak last year.
An unprecedented 117,300 doses of the vaccine had been distributed in Canterbury up to Tuesday, significantly more than the 94,720 for the same period last year, a CDHB spokeswoman said.
Nationally, almost 800,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed, more than 20 per cent ahead of the same period last year.
Government health targets aim for more than 1.2 million Kiwis to get their flu jab this year and Jennings said the country is tracking "extremely well ahead of targets".
Jennings believed the Government target to immunise 75 per cent of the elderly would be reached in Christchurch this year.
The CDHB offers free immunisation for children aged up to 18.
Nationally, those eligible for free immunisation are pregnant women, the elderly, children with a history of asthma or respiratory conditions up to the age of 6, and adults with medical conditions.
- One Cantabrian has died from influenza-related illness this year
- Five Cantabrians who died last year had laboratory-confirmed H3N2 influenza, preliminary CDHB figures show
- The H3N2 flu strain has killed more than 100 children in the United States
- More than 117,000 doses of the influenza vaccine have been distributed in Canterbury
- Almost 800,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed nationwide
- The CDHB offers free-immunisation to all Cantabrians up to the age of 18
- © Fairfax NZ News
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