OPINION: A sudden increase in swine flu infections in New Zealand, combined with the news that the H1N1 virus is now spreading freely around the community and not just being brought in by travellers will hopefully silence the flu sceptics who have so far insisted it will all be a storm in a teacup.
The World Health Organisation now believes swine flu is the biggest pandemic the world has seen for 40 years, and New Zealand's health authorities have stepped up their planning to a new level.
We have plenty to be thankful for so far. The virus is relatively mild in the majority of cases, and our containment approach has kept infection numbers relatively low to date. But it still has the potential to kill and the signs are it has gained a strong foothold.
Health authorities and the education sector are to be applauded for their planning and implementation of containment plans which have slowed the spread. They have done their bit as far as is practical and it is now up to the community to play its part. Taking into account the strength of our "she'll be right" attitude much stronger than any rapidly mutating virus it will take a large miracle to get all New Zealanders to take the flu threat seriously.
But it is crystal clear that individuals and families should also have their own plans for coping with the flu in place. Families should be asking what their strategy will be for coping if quarantine is forced upon them. Planning can be as simple as making sure there are always enough groceries in the cupboard to survive without a trip to the supermarket for at least a week. Your chosen potions for dealing with flu and high fever should be in the cupboard.
If you care for someone old, extremely young or infirm it would seem wise to be asking for anti-viral drugs as a precaution.
No one can claim they have not been warned.
For once in our history we can be thankful to be lagging behind Australia. Hopefully we can learn from the experience across the Tasman where swine flu has spread rapidly and the health system is feeling the strain.
Over there one Australian GP has likened health chiefs to the negligent generals who sent the hapless Anzacs to their fate at Gallipoli. Doctors report patients waiting for more than a week to get test results back. Some patients are finding it hard to get hold of anti-viral drugs in time to limit the infection. Victoria has now given up on even updating infection numbers, cut back on tests to identify the virus and quarantine measures because the infection is now so widespread.
Yesterday seven patients with the virus were in intensive care and it is only a matter of time until it claims its first lives in Australia. Where Australia goes we will inevitably follow within weeks. It is time to get prepared.
- The Timaru Herald