Influenza – Still time to protect yourself
Canterbury’s influenza season is likely to peak in the coming weeks warns Dr Lance Jennings, Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) virologist and National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG) spokesperson.
The season has generally been quiet so far in Canterbury but it’s time to take extra measures to protect yourself and your family. Around 22 New Zealanders die each year on average as a result of contracting influenza, NISG warns.
“Despite a small national increase in vaccine uptake so far this season, we are concerned that too few people with chronic health conditions may not have had the vaccine,” Dr Jennings says. Chronic health conditions include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease and most cancers.
“In recent years, influenza activity has peaked in July or August. Free immunisations for those at greatest risk from influenza stopped at the end of June but I encourage those who haven’t received their vaccine to go to their General Practice for a vaccination, especially if you are 65 years or over or you have a long-term health condition,” Dr Jennings says. Many people, not just the most vulnerable, can still be protected and benefit from the vaccination now.
The influenza virus A/Brisbane and B/Florida strains circulating this winter are similar to the strains included in this season’s vaccine, so this year’s vaccine should provide good protection. The Pope’s visit to Sydney recently attracted a large gathering of people, which helped the spread of influenza. Several areas where pilgrims were staying experienced influenza outbreaks with around 143 cases amongst pilgrims being reported and some being admitted to hospital. Large gatherings of people during periods when influenza viruses are circulating highlights the need for good infection control practices by all of us.
To help protect you and your family from influenza remember to CHIRP: C – Cover your cough and sneezes. Use tissues, dispose of them properly and then wash your hands. H – Have Healthy Hands. Wash your hands often and well. I – Isolate yourself. Maintain a personal space of 1.5 metres to minimise exposure to the influenza virus from those who may be ill.
Stay at home if you become ill. R – Reduce germs in your home and workplace. Regularly disinfect common surfaces such as phones, remote controls, door knobs, light switches, toys etc. P – Prepare yourself and your family. Get vaccinated annually and create an emergency plan and kit for yourself and your family in case of an influenza pandemic. CDHB’s website www.fluinfo.org.nz includes information about guarding against influenza and preparing for an influenza pandemic in the future.