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Influenza Pandemic - Coming - Ready Or Not?

All Health Reporters/Chief Executives/Press Officers

FROM: Dr Don Simmers, NZMA Acting Chairman
DATE: Friday, 11 March 2005
SUBJECT: Coming -- ready or not?

(Note, embargoed until 6am Friday 11 March)

Influenza is a very real and present threat to New Zealanders and a global pandemic in the near future could seriously challenge the capacity of our public and primary health systems.

This emerges from papers in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal, using models which suggest that during a global influenza pandemic:

• up to 3700 people in New Zealand could die from influenza,

• up to 16,000 people could be hospitalised

• nearly half of all hospital beds could be taken up by flu victims at the peak of the epidemic, and that

• the average GP would be consulted by 80 people a week suffering from flu and complications.

The paper by Nick Wilson, Osman Mansoor and Michael Baker of the Wellington School of Medicine uses an established model from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention based on experience in 1957 and later pandemics.

“An influenza pandemic would be devastating for New Zealand, and could potentially affect many thousands of people as well as put our health services under a huge amount of pressure,” said NZMA Acting Chairman Dr Don Simmers. “The statistics provided in this report make ominous reading. It is therefore vital that health authorities work to ensure that the health sector is fully prepared for the eventuality of an influenza or bird flu pandemic.”

Dr Simmers noted that the Ministry of Health has ordered 800,000 doses of Tamiflu to be here in May. “That would seem to be a very appropriate level of response for the need to stockpile anti-viral medication,” he said.

In an editorial in the same issue, Christchurch virologist Lance Jennings warns that conditions favouring a global pandemic are increasing, particularly with the looming threat of the virulent bird flu strain H5N1. New Zealand has a pandemic action plan but, Dr Jennings warns, it has to be flexible to cope with changing circumstances and threats.


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