Hopes for mild flu season in Canterbury

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 12:00 15/07/2013

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Record vaccination rates have health authorities hopeful for a mild flu season, but Cantabrians are being warned not to become complacent about the potentially deadly disease.

Canterbury was hit with an influenza H3N2 outbreak that quadrupled the national average last year, sending 347 people to hospital and contributing to the deaths of five people.

Preliminary figures from a Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) review said the five who died had laboratory-confirmed influenza and one Christchurch patient is believed to have died from the virus in March this year.

The H3N2 influenza strain contributed to the deaths of hundreds of people in the United States during the last northern hemisphere winter, prompting health authorities in New Zealand to push the importance of influenza vaccinations before winter came back around here.

National Influenza Specialist Group spokesman Dr Lance Jennings said the campaign had contributed to a record-breaking number of people getting influenza vaccinations, with about 1.24 million people across New Zealand receiving the vaccine so far this year.

In Canterbury, about 74 per cent of those aged 65 and older and more than 30 per cent of those aged under 18 had received a vaccination and as of June 30, only 18 Cantabrians had been hospitalised with influenza this year - down from 62 for the same period last year.

Canterbury vaccinators had ordered enough vaccine to cover 42 per cent of the population and expected to use all of it.

CDHB medical officer of surveillance Dr Peter Mitchell said the increased uptake came following campaigns encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, rather than just those considered vulnerable, and a ''huge effort'' by general practices to increase immunisation coverage.

''The targeted schools based flu immunisation programme in ... Christchurch secondary schools has been piloted this year and will have contributed to this year's success too.''

However, Jennings warned people not to become complacent about the potentially deadly disease.

''The current vaccination rate, impressive as it is, may slow the spread of influenza but it won't stop it. Many vulnerable people are still unprotected and this is a concern as we head into flu season.''

Influenza cases usually began to increase rapidly at this time of year and it could take up to two weeks to develop protection after receiving a vaccination, he said.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Ramon Pink said influenza should not be confused with common colds or other respiratory viruses.

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''Contrary to a widely-held myth, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus. People who do become sick are more likely to have been incubating another winter respiratory illness such as a common cold, which then gets worse.''

Influenza vaccinations are free until the July for Cantabrians aged 65 and over, pregnant women, children aged from six months to 18 and those with a long-term health condition such as heart disease, diabetes or respiratory illness.

- The Press

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