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No more youth influenza B deaths reported

Media Release

24 June 2005

No more influenza B related deaths reported in children and young people No further deaths of children and young people due to influenza B have been identified by District Health Boards.

The Ministry of Health has received information from all 21 District Health Boards asked to look into possible influenza B cases in their areas since April 1 2005.

They identified no further influenza B related deaths, in addition to those reported early this week, however they reported that three more children had died of acute illnesses.Two of these children died from acute bacterial infection without evidence of influenza B. Test results for the third child who died are pending.

Chief Advisor child and youth health, Dr Pat Tuohy said the number of deaths reported to the Ministry since April 2005 is what would be expected from infectious diseases at this time of year. There are around 600 deaths every year of children and young people in NZ; up to 60 of these will be related to some sort of infection, such as pneumonia or meningitis. In all, 17 cases of children or young people, including the six who died, have been reported to the Ministry by DHBs. In addition to the children who died, there were 11 children who became seriously ill during this period. Seven of these children had Influenza B.

"The case definition we have used has allowed us to cast a wide net to ensure we have identified all possible instances where Influenza B may be involved." said Dr Tuohy.

With one exception, all of the children who became ill were in the North Island.

"This highlights the need for parents to remain vigilant and take speedy action if they think their child is unwell and getting worse," he said.

Influenza B is reaching epidemic rates in children and young people in the North Island and the current rate of influenza in New Zealand communities is higher than at the same time last year.

There are two strains of influenza B circulating at present - Hong Kong and Shanghai. The three young people whose deaths were associated with Influenza B had the Hong Kong strain.

"In New Zealand we have not seen large numbers of people infected with this type of influenza (Hong Kong B) since 1987, although a few people had it in 2002. What that means is that most people born since 1987 will not have natural immunity so are more likely to be susceptible."

Dr Tuohy said all parents, caregivers and clinicians need to be aware that the impact of Influenza B on children and adolescents can be much more severe than has previously been recognised, and this should be kept in mind when caring for any young person with influenza-like symptoms.

It is being recognised internationally that Influenza B could lead to serious illness and death from a secondary infection in children

"For parents, it's really important that we keep a close eye on children sick with flu-like symptoms. If children are unwell they should be kept at home from school with a parent or responsible guardian," he said.

The Ministry also advises that sick children should be kept warm, given paracetamol (NOT aspirin) for fever and plenty of fluids. If the child is not getting better, or gets better and then develops another fever, or is having breathing difficulties, the child should be taken to a GP.

If parents have already taken their child to a doctor and had a diagnosis of influenza, but they are concerned about their child or the child gets sicker, then parents are advised to take the child back to the doctor, as they may have developed another infection.

The Ministry advises that the annual influenza immunisation is the best form of defence against influenza, and we strongly urge people to get immunised, particularly those who are most vulnerable and in the at-risk groups . These people are at higher risk of developing complications from an influenza infection.

Of the two influenza B strains in circulation, B Shanghai is included in this year's vaccine. B Hong Kong is not in this year's vaccine but was included in last year's vaccine.

Flu vaccine is recommended and subsidised for children with certain chronic health conditions such as cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease or who are being treated for cancer.

ENDS

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