Busy hospitals say a rise in serious influenza cases is the last thing they need this winter.
“Our hospitals are already coping with a rise in patient numbers as winter arrives. One thing that would really help ease the pressure is for those people eligible for free influenza immunisation to get protection now. Wider immunisation could minimise the risk of a sudden influx into the hospitals,” says Dr Lance Jennings, a virologist and spokesperson for the National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG)1.
He says influenza is a serious disease, especially for people with underlying medical conditions. It can make their condition much worse and lead to hospitalisation and even death. Influenza usually has symptoms such as a sudden onset of illness, high fever, headache, a dry cough and illness usually lasts 7-10 days.
“It’s not too late for eligible New Zealanders to protect themselves with a free flu vaccination – the Government’s subsidised season runs until July 31,” advises Dr Jennings.
Dr Jennings says that all three types of influenza virus currently in circulation are covered by the 2014 season influenza vaccine.
“We’re also seeing other respiratory viral infections, including common colds, in the community and it’s important people don’t confuse them with actual influenza. They may have some similar symptoms but they’re not the same thing. The influenza vaccine does not stop colds.”
“Influenza tends to spread more easily in cold, dry air so that’s one reason we see cases rise in winter. Studies have shown that human influenza viruses generally can survive on hard surfaces between two and eight hours so that’s why we stress the importance of good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping your distance if you’re sneezing or coughing.”
NISG says that as well as getting an influenza vaccination you may protect yourself and your family/whanau from influenza if you:
- Wash and dry your hands often
- Stay away from people who are sick
- Stay away from work or school if you’re unwell
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
“We estimate around 1.17 million people have already been vaccinated this year. However, many of those eligible for free vaccination have not taken up the offer so far. That still leaves many vulnerable people unprotected and this is a concern as we head into flu season.
“People, especially those at greatest risk from flu complications, should be immunised as soon as possible. Influenza cases traditionally begin to rise sharply at this time of year and it takes up to two weeks to develop full protection after vaccination.”
Influenza vaccinations are free for New Zealanders until the end of July if you are in one of these groups:
- People aged 65 and over
- Anyone under 65 years of age (including children) with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers
- Pregnant women
- Children aged from six months and up to five years of age who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness.
“Contrary to a widely-held myth, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus. Unfortunately some people may be incubating a common cold when vaccinated and then develop respiratory symptoms due to a non-influenza virus.”
For free health advice, call Healthline 0800 611 116. For advice about influenza immunisation visit www.fightflu.co.nz or text FLU to 515.
Media contact: Brenda Saunders, National Influenza Strategy Group, 021 777 171
Additional information about Influenza
Influenza or ‘flu can be a serious illness – it’s more than a “bad cold”. Anyone can catch it – even the fit and healthy.
1National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)
NISG was formed in 2000 by the Ministry of Health to increase public awareness of influenza, its seriousness and the importance of immunisation to prevent the disease.
Influenza vaccine distribution to 30 June 2014
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