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Last chance for free influenza immunisation

Last chance for free influenza immunisation

New Zealanders at high-risk from seasonal influenza have less than two weeks to get free immunisation against this serious disease before the Government-subsidised programme ends for this year on June 30.

“Influenza can lead to complications requiring a hospital stay – something to be avoided at the best of times but especially in the busy winter period,” advises virologist and National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG) spokesman, Dr Lance Jennings.

The first cases of seasonal influenza for 2006 have already been identified in New Zealand, and the good news is that the type of virus circulating at the moment (A/California/7/2004 (H3N2) - like virus) is covered by the 2006 vaccine.

Influenza immunisation has been more popular than ever this season, according to NISG1 which has promoted immunisation with the message that, “You’re never too fit to get hit.”

”The latest distribution figures show surgeries and clinics have received more than 754,110 doses - 5% more than the total number of doses distributed in the entire 2005 season,” comments virologist and NISG spokesman, Dr Lance Jennings.

Influenza immunisation is free to New Zealanders at high-risk from influenza -- people aged 65 and over and those with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, lung diseases, stroke and diabetes. The vaccine is available from a family doctor or nurse. Many employers provide influenza vaccination free to employees.

Dr Jennings warns that although people are concerned about the risk of an influenza pandemic arising from avian influenza viruses they should also be concerned about seasonal influenza which can also have serious consequences for vulnerable groups.

“You cannot immunise against pandemic influenza as a pandemic virus does not exist. You can, however, immunise against seasonal influenza. Being ill with seasonal influenza would make you even more vulnerable should a pandemic strike so vaccination against seasonal influenza is strongly recommended,” he comments.

He advises people, particularly those in high-risk groups, to get their influenza vaccination without delay as influenza is circulating and it takes up to two weeks from vaccination for people to develop immunity.

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Background Information on Influenza:

Influenza and ‘the Flu’ are the same thing. It is a potentially serious viral infection – much worse than a cold. The illness can last for weeks, often confines you to bed and can carry the risk of permanent damage or death.

The influenza vaccine cannot give you influenza as the vaccine does not contain any live viruses.

The influenza virus changes each year so it’s important that people are immunised annually to gain protection from the strains most likely to circulate.

Even when you are immunised you should practise good hygiene to prevent the spread of the infection. You should cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and then wash your hands. You should always use disposable tissues and stay at home when sick.

For further information go to www.influenza.org.nz or www.moh.govt.nz or call 0800 IMMUNE 0800 466 863.

1National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)
NISG was formed in 2000 to help District Health Boards and the Ministry of Health to meet the national influenza immunisation target. It aims to increase public awareness of influenza, its seriousness and the importance of immunisation to prevent the disease.

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