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Influenza – last chance for free immunisation

MEDIA RELEASE

www.influenza.org.nz
June 23, 2008

Influenza can be deadly – last chance for free immunisation

Around 22 New Zealanders die each year on average as a result of contracting influenza, warns the National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)1 whose free influenza vaccination campaign ends for this season on June 30.

“Thousands of New Zealanders who are at high risk of complications from influenza, which can lead to death, have less than a week to get free immunisation. We urge them to take this disease seriously and get their best protection from influenza,” comments NISG spokesperson Dr Lance Jennings.

Influenza immunisation is free from a doctor or nurse for people 65 years and over or people under 65 with a long-term health condition such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease and most cancers until this deadline.

“Despite an overall increase in vaccine uptake so far this season, we are concerned that too few people with chronic health conditions may not have been protected by influenza vaccine. It is vital that they get the vaccine soon as it takes up to two weeks to develop immunity,” comments Dr Jennings.

The latest ESR influenza surveillance report2 shows influenza cases are higher than at the same time in 2007, with the highest consultation rates in Northland and Rotorua.

“And the predicted colder weather this week will provide ideal conditions for the influenza virus to survive and be passed on,” says Dr Jennings.

“This is traditionally the time of year when we see influenza cases rise. Fortunately, there is still time for people to get free immunisation,” he comments.


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.

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.

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 important to provide protection from the strains most likely to circulate in New Zealand. The inactivated influenza vaccine provides the best protection against influenza.

The influenza vaccine composition for New Zealand for 2008 is:

o an A/Solomon Islands/3/2006 (H1N1)-like virus;
o an A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus;
o a B/Florida/4/2006-like virus.


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 by the Ministry of Health to increase public awareness of influenza, its seriousness and the importance of immunisation to prevent the disease.


2 ESR Surveillance report
http://www.surv.esr.cri.nz/PDF_surveillance/Virology/FluWeekRpt/2008/FluWeekRpt200824.pdf

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