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Kapow! Kiwis advised to ‘Kung Fu’ Flu

Kapow! Kiwis advised to ‘Kung Fu’ Flu – 2008 influenza immunisation campaign kicks off

Health Minister David Cunliffe kicked off the influenza immunisation season for 2008 today by announcing the vaccine had arrived in New Zealand surgeries.

The new influenza immunisation promotional campaign takes a “Kung Fu” martial arts theme this year to show that immunisation is still one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from influenza and that “you’re never too fit to get hit”.

“New Zealanders should to arm themselves with vaccine against this serious disease. And it’s free from your doctor or nurse if you are 65 and over or under 65 with a long-term health condition,” he says.

National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)1 spokesperson and virologist, Dr Lance Jennings says that according to recently published report based on ESR surveillance data influenza-related deaths in New Zealand have reduced by over 70% since 1997 when the vaccination policy changed, resulting in a steady increase of vaccine uptake.

“Immunisation is our best protection – influenza is easily spread and anyone can catch it. Even though it still feels like summer, it’s important to be immunised before winter as it can take up to two weeks from immunisation to develop immunity,” explains Dr Jennings.

He adds that influenza can be a serious and potentially fatal disease particularly for people who have long term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease and most cancers as they are most at risk of complications.

Groundbreaking research published in the European Heart Journal in December 2007 found that a bout of influenza increases the immediate risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Sufferers are more likely to be affected within three days of falling ill with influenza and are at the risk for up to a week, according to the study of two million people.

Funded vaccine is available free to eligible groups until June 30, 2008.

“You can only be immune to a particular strain of the virus if you’ve had it before. And, as the virus strains keep changing each year, most people are unlikely to have natural immunity. That’s why annual immunisation is so important to provide protection from the strains most likely to circulate in New Zealand. The inactivated influenza vaccine provides the best protection against influenza,” explains Dr Jennings.

The influenza vaccine composition for New Zealand for 2008 is:

an A/Solomon Islands/3/2006 (H1N1)-like virus; an A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus; a B/Florida/4/2006-like virus. The new television “Kung Flu” ad, which focuses on improving your defence against influenza, will appear on screen from mid-April.

Meanwhile, a campaign specifically targeting healthcare workers starts in hospitals and health settings this month.

NISG and PHARMAC, the Government’s drug buying agency, are concerned at the comparatively low levels of influenza immunisation uptake among health professionals in New Zealand. Reports from some district health boards ( DHBs) to NISG have shown coverage rates of only 20 to 40 per cent for healthcare workers, despite the vaccine being free to staff. Unimmunised health professionals can transmit the virus to vulnerable patients.

Dr Jennings says that annual immunisation of healthcare workers is the most efficient way to minimise their (patients’) exposure to a potentially serious viral infection.

Ends

Background Information on Influenza:

Influenza is a potentially serious viral infection – much worse than a cold. Complications of the illness can last for weeks, often confines you to bed and can carry the risk of permanent damage or death.

The influenza vaccine available in New Zealand 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.

National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)
NISG was formed in 2000 by the Ministry of Health to increase public awareness of influenza, its seriousness and the importance of immunisation to prevent the disease.

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