Sth Canty takes massive flu hit

South Canterbury has had the highest rate of influenza in the country for September, with nearly double the national average of cases.

The average monthly consultation rate around the country was 27.4 per 100,000 patients population, while South Canterbury hit 77.8 per 100,000. Auckland followed closely with 61.2.

Timaru GP Ollie Bourke has described it as the worst year for flu he has seen in the district for 22 years.

He said the strain he was seeing differed from others because it was recurring.

His patients had been hit hard at the onset, then came right for about two days, only for it to return again.

"I just think it's been a very debilitating one and more than we would normally see.

"It completely knackers people."

Symptoms include throat and chest infections, and it can leave people with a "persistent" cough.

Dr Bourke said rest home staff were among the people who had suffered from the strain in recent weeks but many elderly residents had escaped it. "They seem to have some protection from [this particular] influenza virus from many years ago that [younger people] don't have," he said.

The most common flu strain identified in South Canterbury earlier this year was H3N2.

This year's flu vaccine includes protection against that strain.

Community and Public Health has been notified of 27 confirmed cases of flu in South Canterbury between May and September.

All cases were H3N2.

However, the medical officer for the community and public health division serving the South Canterbury District Health Board, Peter Mitchell, said H3N2 had not been common since 2007.

"Since influenza immunity tends to wane this may be the reason that there were so many cases this year," he said.

There were about 1300 reported cases of influenza-like illness in South Canterbury this winter.

Vaccination was the best form of protection, he said.

"The best protection against influenza for everyone aged six months and older, including pregnant women, is to have the vaccination every year," Mr Mitchell said.

The Timaru Herald