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.
â€œItâ€™s not too late for eligible New Zealanders to protect themselves with a free flu vaccination â€“ the Governmentâ€™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.
â€œWeâ€™re also seeing other respiratory viral infections, including common colds, in the community and itâ€™s important people donâ€™t confuse them with actual influenza. They may have some similar symptoms but theyâ€™re not the same thing.â€
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.
â€œInfluenza cases traditionally begin to rise sharply at this time of year and it takes up to two weeks to develop full protection after vaccination.â€
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.