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Free influenza vaccination campaign launched


Annual free influenza vaccination campaign launched

Almost 100 more New Zealanders were hospitalised with influenza last year than in 2002, prompting calls for people to be proactive this winter and get vaccinated.

This weekend marks the start of the free influenza campaign to guard against the serious illness, which can lead to serious health complications and even death.

Nationwide hospitalisations for influenza rose from 487 in 2002 to 586 last year. And approximately 46,000 people visited their GP due to influenza-like illness in 2003. The worst areas affected were Otago and South Canterbury.

Dr Paul Bohmer, from the National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group (NIISG), says New Zealanders at greatest risk from influenza need to be proactive.

?People must take the opportunity to get vaccinated this winter. With last year?s increase in hospitalisations, we simply cannot afford to be complacent.?

The Ministry of Health funds free influenza vaccinations each year for those at greatest risk of complications from the disease ? those aged 65 and over and those adults and children with certain chronic medical conditions. The vaccination should be available from most General Practices in the next week.

Christchurch-based virologist and NIISG spokesperson, Dr Lance Jennings, says it takes approximately two weeks for the vaccine to give the individual full protection and individuals are advised to vaccinate sooner rather than later. He says ?all strains of influenza are easily spread from person-to-person and influenza can lead to serious illness. We must remember that it can be life threatening so those at greatest risk need to take action.?

Overseas the influenza season started in quite an aggressive way, however by the end of the season the total reported cases showed little variation from the usual annual rates.

This year in New Zealand the vaccine has been updated to include the A-Fujian influenza strain. This strain was found in many outbreaks in the USA and Europe during their winter influenza season. ?It is important that we provide the best protection for individuals? says Dr Bohmer, ? so that?s why the influenza vaccine we use is changed each year according to international guidelines. The vaccine also includes strains likely to be prevalent in New Zealand this season including, the A/New Caledonian and B Hong Kong strains.?

Background

Those people with chronic health conditions are more at risk of complications from influenza and that is why the vaccination is provided free to these groups. This includes those 65 years and over, and those adults and children with certain chronic conditions including:

• heart disease • stroke • ongoing respiratory (chest) diseases like chronic bronchitis or asthma (but only those requiring regular preventative medication) • diabetes • ongoing renal (kidney) disease • most cancers • other conditions affecting the immune system such as HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis and organ transplants.

Overseas research studies have shown that influenza vaccination cuts hospitalisations and deaths in the over 65 age group during the influenza season.

Vaccination is the best protection against influenza. For those in the ?at risk? groups, early vaccination is recommended even if they are fit and healthy.

Annual vaccination is also recommended as Dr Jennings states ?The virus is always changing so the vaccines need to be updated annually to provide optimal protection against illness. Therefore people must get vaccinated each year regardless of whether they?ve been vaccinated the year before.?

Dr Jennings says ??Influenza is a serious disease that can rapidly affect the whole body. ? Influenza makes people feel miserable and is more serious than the common cold. The signs and symptoms include fever and chills, cough, body aches and pains, fatigue and headache?.

Anyone wanting more information about influenza can contact their doctor or practice nurse or telephone 0800 ? IMMUNE (0800 466863)


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