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Get Vaccinated Now As Influenza Is On The Increase

An outbreak of influenza in some North Island regions is a serious warning for people to get vaccinated, says the Ministry of Health.

The National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group convened by the Ministry met today to discuss the growing number of reported cases and how best to ensure New Zealanders are taking heed of the "get vaccinated" message.

Dr Lance Jennings, a virologist and member of the Strategy Group, said the group was very concerned. "The virus is approaching epidemic levels in two regions in the North Island - Gisborne and Bay of Plenty. And during the past two weeks in Auckland the number of people with influenza-like illness has also continued to increase.

"Vaccination is the only way to ensure people do not suffer the complications influenza can cause. Too many people fail to appreciate that it can lead to hospitalisation for pneumonia or other complications where a person has an existing illness or disease, as well as making the sufferer feel absolutely miserable."

Until the end of June the Ministry of Health will provide free vaccinations for people most at risk of contracting influenza. These include people 65 and over as well as adults and children under 65 with certain chronic medical conditions.

The conditions could include heart disease, stroke and related diseases, ongoing respiratory diseases like bronchitis, diabetes, ongoing kidney diseases, most cancers and other conditions which affect the immune system such as HIV/AIDS.

In Gisborne 350 cases of influenza like-illness per 100,000 of population were seen by general practitioners between June 4-8. That number reached 400 per 100,000 in the Bay of Plenty. In Auckland 167 cases of influenza-like illness per 100,000 of population were seen by general practitioners in the week ending 17 June.

"Historically, these levels are what is commonly seen when influenza is reaching epidemic proportions in a community " Dr Jennings said.

He said so far this year fewer people had been vaccinated than last year. In 2000 approximately 168 vaccine doses per 1000 people were administered. This year to date approximately 151 vaccine doses per 1000 population have been administered".

Health Benefits claims data suggests that vaccine usage for those at greatest risk of contracting influenza, people 65 years and older, is also lower than last year, although data is still being processed.

"The influenza vaccine is changed each year to provide protection against new strains of the virus. The influenza strains circulating this year are similar to those in this year's vaccine which means it should provide optimal protection against influenza," Dr Jennings said.

"Those who have not been vaccinated should contact their local general practitioner or practice nurse as soon as possible. The time to act is now."

ENDS

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