New Zealand’s chilly winter weather has caused a sudden rise in influenza cases and other respiratory infections around the country, and a health expert is advising people to get flu shots.
Around a million people have already been vaccinated but that still leaves many vulnerable people unprotected.
Contrary to a widely-held belief, you cannot get influenza from flu vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus, says Dr Lance Jennings, a virologist and spokesperson for the National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG). “Unfortunately some people may be incubating a common cold when vaccinated and then develop respiratory symptoms due to a non-influenza virus.”
Latest data shows a national consultation rate of 58.0 per 100,000 (220 influenza-like-illness consultations) which indicates normal seasonal influenza activity. The consultation rate has, however, almost doubled in the past month.
“It’s not too late for eligible New Zealanders to protect themselves with a free flu vaccination – the Government’s subsidised season ends on July 31.
“All three types of influenza virus currently in circulation (pandemic H1N1 09 (swine flu), H3N2 and B virus) are covered by the 2011 season influenza vaccine,” says Dr Jennings.
“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.”
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 is usually characterised by a sudden onset of illness, high fever, headache, a dry cough and usually lasts 7-10 days.
“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 from medical practices until the end of July for New Zealanders in these groups:
- Pregnant women;
- 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.