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Use ‘flu season to learn more

Media release 9 August 2006

Pandemic planners advise community to use ‘flu season to learn more

Canterbury pandemic planning leaders are urging local people to use the influenza currently circulating in the region to get educated about caring for the illness – and as a reminder to get, and stay, prepared.

“In an influenza pandemic, the overwhelming majority of those who get sick will have to be cared for at home by friends and family just as they are now,” says Pegasus Health Managing Director Dr Paul McCormack.

“That is entirely appropriate, as uncomplicated influenza is best treated this way, with rest, paracetamol and lots of fluids. It will become even more important in a pandemic, when we will need to save the scarce community based and hospital resources we have for those who suffer complications and get very sick.”

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Mel Brieseman says that ‘flu season is also a salient reminder about the seriousness of influenza.

“Many people talk about having the ‘flu when they really just have a cold. A cold generally involves a blocked or runny nose, and possibly a sore throat. ‘Real’ influenza can have these symptoms plus a fever, severe aches or fatigue. It’s a serious illness – it can put people in bed for weeks, and leave them so weak and listless that it is difficult for them to cook and care for themselves. If you do get genuine influenza this winter, or you are close to somebody who does, you will see it for yourself first hand. Now just imagine how it would be in a pandemic when almost half of the community is this unwell – and think about preparing your household accordingly.”

Cantabrians are urged to have at least two weeks of food and essential household supplies on hand to cover themselves and their family if they do fall ill in a pandemic, and supplies for even longer if they want to insure against potential food shortages or distance themselves from the wider community for a time.

Chief Medical Officer for the Canterbury District Health Board Dr Nigel Millar says that while everything about a future pandemic remains uncertain, there are some good lessons to be learned from past pandemics.

“In the 1918 pandemic, those communities who were best prepared had the highest survival rates. We don’t know when another pandemic will strike or how bad it will be – but one thing we do know for sure is, preparation is our best defence.”

Local pandemic planning has been going on for some months now and is progressing steadily with planning for a number of scenarios from a mild influenza to something a lot more devastating.

Under the banner of the Primary Care Pandemic Influenza Reference Group, health organisations including community services, pharmacists, laboratories and general practice have been working together with the CDHB and Community and Public Health to ensure health services are as prepared as they can possibly be, if a pandemic arrives.

However, Dr Millar says that no amount of organisational planning can replace the work that needs to be done at every level of the community.

“Now is the time when we need to educate ourselves about influenza, the symptoms, how its spreads and how to keep safe.”

“Despite all the hi-tech alternatives round nowadays, simple things like impeccable hygiene, the ability to distance ourselves from others and good, solid preparation are the most important things for us all to be thinking about.”

ENDS

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