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Flu not just a winter disease

March 26, 2014

Flu not just a winter disease

Health experts are urging New Zealanders to get immunised against influenza as soon as possible to get protected, with recent cases of the disease showing that influenza isn’t only a winter illness.

“As highlighted by recent cases in South Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay, with some people in intensive care, influenza circulates all year round and can be serious,” advises National Influenza Specialist Group spokesperson and virologist, Dr Lance Jennings. “Getting immunised now, before we start to see the increase in flu over the colder months, gives you the best chance of being protected.”

Dr Jennings says that so far most of the confirmed cases in New Zealand this year have been caused by the A (H1N1) strain, the same strain that caused the 2009 pandemic but now circulates each year. The influenza season normally peaks in June/July.

“Although this particular virus can lead to serious complications for pregnant women and younger, previously healthy people, the good news is it is covered by the 2014 vaccine. So we strongly advise people to talk to their doctor or nurse soon to arrange a vaccination.

“People should not wait until they see other people falling sick with influenza before being vaccinated as it can take up to two weeks to develop immunity from vaccination,” he says.

A special focus of this year’s seasonal influenza immunisation programme is pregnant women and their newborn babies. Influenza vaccine has been used for many years in pregnant women, with no safety concerns, and can be given in any trimester.

Healthy, pregnant women are up to 18 times more likely to be admitted to hospital when suffering from influenza than non-pregnant women.

“Pregnant women are at particularly high risk of severe complications and death from influenza because of the changes that occur to their immune and other systems during pregnancy. Influenza immunisation in pregnancy also offers protection to the newborn baby during the first few months of life,” says Dr Jennings.

Influenza immunisation is free from a GP or nurse until July 31, 2014 for New Zealanders at high risk of complications – pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and anyone under 65 years of age, including children six months and older, with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers.

Other people can receive influenza vaccinations at surgeries and some pharmacies for a small charge. Many employers provide free vaccination to their employees.

For further information go to or or call 0800 IMMUNE 0800 466 863.

Pregnancy and vaccination
WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has recommended that pregnant women should be the highest priority in seasonal influenza vaccination programmes.

Pregnant women are at particularly high risk of severe complications and death from influenza because of a range of changes that occur during pregnancy including changes to lung function, increased heart output and oxygen consumption, and changes to immunity.

The risk is heightened by other health conditions and being in the third trimester of pregnancy. For example, when a pregnant woman has another high-risk condition, such as asthma or diabetes mellitus, the risk of influenza-infection-associated illness is 3-4 times greater than for non-pregnant women.

Influenza virus is different from a cold virus. A cold virus only affects the nose, throat and the upper chest and lasts for a few days.

Influenza SymptomsCold Symptoms
Sudden onset of illness. Moderate to severe illness lasting 7-10 daysMild illness
Fever (usually high)Mild fever
Headache (may be severe)Mild headache (congested sinuses)
Dry cough may become moistSometimes a cough
Muscle achesMuscle aches uncommon
ShiveringA runny nose
Bed rest necessary
Can suffer severe complications (e.g. pneumonia)


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