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Free influenza vaccination is still available

Ministry reminds people that free influenza vaccination is still available.

The Ministry of Health is reminding those people most at risk of complications from influenza that free vaccination is still available but only until the end of June 2004.

Every year the Ministry of Health funds free vaccination for people most at risk from influenza infection. This includes those aged 65 and over and adults and children with some chronic health conditions. These conditions include asthma (but only if using a preventer), diabetes, heart conditions, chronic kidney disease and some other conditions affecting the immune system. Influenza is a serious illness and can lead to serious health complications or even death. Those at risk should talk to a healthcare professional about the free vaccination.

In 2003 there were approximately 46,000 General Practice consultations for influenza type illness in New Zealand, and an increase in hospitalisations due to influenza of more than 100 on the previous year.

Dr Paul Bohmer, who is the National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group (NIISG) spokesperson, says about 10 percent or 354,000 of New Zealanders under the age of 65 qualify for the free influenza vaccine under the criteria of "chronic conditions" but so far only about a third of this group has taken up the offer. He says health centres have worked hard to encourage patients to receive the vaccination and he hopes this will continue.

?While the influenza season has not really started yet, with the onset of colder weather influenza is likely to be around soon. It is important for people in the high risk groups to be vaccinated now before the cold months start, as it takes two weeks for the vaccine to work,? says Dr Paul Bohmer.

Dr Bohmer says "Influenza is very contagious, as it is easily spread between people. Influenza is not like having a simple cold - it makes people very unwell and miserable for up to 10 days and can have serious complications. Those at greatest risk, as well as those caring for those in high-risk groups and healthcare workers should be vaccinated as soon as possible."

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.

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

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