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Young people may be at greater risk from flu virus this year

May 12, 2014

Younger people may be at greater risk from flu virus this year

Younger flu victims aged 18-64 years may be at greater risk from this year’s flu virus, warn health experts at the National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG).

Sixty percent of those hospitalised for influenza in the recent US winter were in this younger age group.

Virus expert and NISG spokesperson, Dr Lance Jennings says that, although influenza activity overall is still at about normal inter-seasonal levels in New Zealand,the A (H1N1) virus strain, which was predominant in the US this winter, could also be prominent in our flu season.

“This particular virus can lead to serious complications for younger, previously healthy people, but 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 flu vaccination, which is free for many people.

Younger people with heart conditions, asthma, respiratory conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, smokers, the obese and pregnant women are at risk of greater complications from influenza.

“Often people in these groups consider themselves fit and healthy and not at risk. But the flu virus can make their existing conditions far worse and can lead to serious illness or even death.”

Winter usually sees influenza cases increase.

“People tend to stay indoors and come in close contact more as the temperatures drop and they are more likely to spread the influenza virus. So it’s a good idea to immunise now for best protection. It can take up to 14 days from vaccination to build immunity,” advises Dr Jennings.

Influenza vaccinations are free for New Zealanders from a doctor or nurse until the end of July if you are in one of these groups:

• People aged 65 and over
• Anyone under 65 years of age (including children) with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers
• All pregnant women
• Children aged from six months and up to five years of age who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness.

Additional information about Influenza and immunisation:
The 2014 seasonal influenza vaccines for New Zealand include two new World Health Organization recommended strains based upon the strains most likely to spread and cause illness in people this season. These are not new or novel viruses. The composition is:
• an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus;
• an A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus;
• a B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus.

Contrary to a widely-held myth, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus. Occasionally some people, when vaccinated, are incubating another viral illness coincidentally but their symptoms are not caused by the vaccine.

Influenza or ‘flu’ can be a serious illness – it’s more than a “bad cold. Anyone can catch it – even the fit and healthy.

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)

National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG)
NISG is a not-for-profit group of expert doctors and nurses formed by the Ministry of Health in 2000. The group’s aim is to increase public awareness of influenza, its seriousness and the importance of immunisation to prevent the disease.

ENDS

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