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Killer Flu Expected to Hit Waikato This Winter

Media Release

Date: Friday 22 March 2013


A killer flu is expected to strike New Zealand this year and doctors are warning it is a deadly serious virus.

Waikato DHB medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble says she is concerned about the flu strain which saw 64 children die in the United States from influenza-associated illnesses during their winter.

Coupled with that, Waikato is seeing increasing cases of pertussis (whooping cough). The latest Public Health Bulletin shows Waikato had 63 reported cases in February, up 41 on the same month last year with 124 year to date since 1 July.

Of the 163 notified cases since 1 January 2012, 57 were from Hamilton, 12 from Matamata Piako, seven from Hauraki, nine from Otorohanga, three from Ruapehu, eight from South Waikato, 22 from Thames Coromandel, 16 from Waikato district, 16 from Waipa and three from Waitomo.

"We had the second highest notification rate in New Zealand last month," said Dr Dumble.

"We encourage pregnant women to ask their doctor about the free pertussis vaccine when receiving their influenza vaccine. Both vaccines are recommended and funded for pregnant women, as the viruses cause high risk to mother and baby and are circulating at epidemic levels."

The National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG) and national District Health Boards (DHBs) advise that influenza vaccinations are the most effective way to fight the epidemic levels of infection that struck the Northern Hemisphere winter.

“No matter how fit and healthy you are, we are all at risk of catching this disease,” said Dr Dumble.
However, elderly and very young patients were particularly vulnerable in the United States this season.

People 65 and over accounted for more than half of all reported influenza-associated hospitalisations– the highest number since records began in 2005. The next highest group were children under four years olds.

“The timing of New Zealand's influenza season is unpredictable but we may see the disease arriving earlier than usual as has happened in the Northern Hemisphere," said Dr Dumble.
Fortunately the New Zealand vaccines for 2013 cover the virus strains causing problems in the Northern Hemisphere and most likely to affect us this year.

"Influenza vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk of catching this disease and lessen symptoms and complications if you do," said Dr Dumble.

She warned being fit and healthy cannot prevent the flu. Immunity to a particular strain of the virus only occurs if you have had it before.

The 2013 vaccine has just arrived in GP surgeries across the country and immunisation is free from a GP or nurse for New Zealanders at high risk of complications - pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and for people of any age with long-term health conditions.

“It takes two weeks to develop immunity following vaccination so being vaccinated before the season starts will gain you the most benefit,” said Dr Dumble.

The influenza vaccine is safe and effective and can reduce illness and respiratory diseases which are deadly for some pregnant women.

As well as getting an influenza vaccination, NISG and national DHBs urge protection is heightened by:

• Washing and drying hands often

• Staying away from people who are sick

• Staying away from work or school if unwell

• Covering coughs and sneezes

More pertussis information:

Pertussis (whooping cough) epidemiology in Waikato, New Zealand: 2000–2009


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