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Timely Reminder For Free Flu Vaccinations

16 June 1999

THE sharp increase in people seeking medical help for flu in the past week is a timely reminder to the elderly and those with chronic illness to take advantage of free flu jabs as the winter begins.

Ministry of Health public health physician Osman Mansoor said older people should take advantage of the free influenza vaccinations as people aged 65 and over are entitled to free jabs from their GP. People with chronic cardiovascular diseae, renal disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, malignant disease and some other conditions are also eligible for free shots.

The free vaccine is available till the end of June

"These are the people who are at risk of severe complications including death and the vaccine will reduce that risk," he said.

It is estimated that up to 1000 people die from influenza complications in New Zealand during severe influenza seasons. Overseas studies show influenza immunisation cuts hospitalisations by half and deaths by two thirds for people aged 65 and over.

"It appears to be the Sydney strain that is prevalent in New Zealand. This strain caused considerable illness and death in the Northern winter. The rapid increase so far looks like this year might be a year that there might be widespread illness from influenza."

Dr Mansoor said the vaccination protects against three strains of flu (two A strains and one B) which are most likely to circulate this winter. The vaccine provides protection against Sydney Strain.

The vaccine costs about $20 from GPs for those not entitled to free immunisation.

In the past week, a total of 511 consultations for influenza-like illness were reported from 81 general practices in 23 health districts, (out of 24). This gives a weekly consultation rate of 179.3 per 100 000 patient population. Rotorua had the highest consultation rate (700.0 per 100 000), followed by Gisborne (542.9 per 100 000).

A total of 83 swabs were received for testing. One case of influenza A H3N2 was confirmed by isolation from South Canterbury. One case of influenza B was confirmed by isolation from Otago.

The Tauranga Health District have not begun surveillance yet.

The previous week, a total of 453 consultations for influenza-like illness were reported from 84 general practices in 22 health districts, (out of 24). This gives a weekly consultation rate of 151.1 per 100 000 patient population.

A total of 116 swabs were received for testing. One case of influenza A was confirmed by isolation from Canterbury. One case of influenza B was confirmed by isolation from Otago.

During May, 977 consultations for influenza-like illness were reported from 77 general practices (on average) in 23 out of 24 health districts. The average weekly consultation rate for May was 91.9 per 100 000 patient population.

A total of 270 swabs were received for testing during May. Of these, 45 isolates were positive for influenza A. Ten cases were confirmed as influenza A H3N2 from Eastern Bay of Plenty (4), Gisborne (1), Hawkes Bay (2), Taranaki (1), Manawatu (1) and Southland (1). The remaining 35 cases of influenza A were not subtyped and were from North West Auckland (6), Central Auckland (9), South Auckland (15), Waikato (3), Canterbury (1) and Otago (1). Five cases of influenza B were confirmed from North West Auckland (2) South Canterbury (1) and Otago (2).

Last May, there were 0 cases of type A and 2 cases of type B.

Below figure 1 compares the average weekly consultation rates for influenza-like illness for each health district during May. Gisborne had the highest consultation rate (1 178.6 per 100 000), followed by Ruapehu (683.3 per 100 000).

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