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Flu Outbreak Spreads

9 July 1999

THE influenza outbreak appears to be spreading from Auckland to the central North Island and Northland and is expected to hit further south in coming weeks.

Public Health Physician Osman Mansoor said Wellington doctors could see more influenza cases over the next fortnight. The South Island may also see an increase in rates.

Auckland had an outbreak about three weeks ago and the city's hospitals were now admitting people with complications.

In the week ended 2 July GPs in the Gisborne and Northland districts saw the most people with flu-like symptoms. Gisborne had a rate of 17 GP consultations for influenza-like illnesses per 1,000 people while Northland's rate was 14.

Dr Mansoor said Gisborne and Northland hospitals were likely to see an increase in admissions of people with flu complications over the next fortnight.

The national rate of consultations for flu-like illnesses was 1.7 per 1,000 people, or 502 consultations for last week (ending 2 July). This was much higher than for the same period last year.

The increase was related to the A/H3N2/Sydney strain - prevalent in the Northern hemisphere's winter, Dr Mansoor said.

"New Zealand experiences severe influenza epidemics every few years. The rapid increase so far this year indicates this year could be one of them."

About 470 people died from influenza each year although this varied widely and could reach 1000. Between 2000 and 5000 people were admitted to hospital with flu in any year.

Dr Mansoor urged people to take advantage of influenza immunisations - free to people aged 65-years and over and the chronically ill until July 31. The availability of free immunisation was extended a month in response to the increase in influenza.

"Although immunisation is only moderately effective in preventing influenza in people aged 65 years and over, it prevents 2/3 of the deaths and half the hospitalisations that arise during the influenza season. The vaccine will provide some protection within a few days, and it is not to late to obtain that protection, especially if you live in one to the areas not yet severely affected by influenza"

ENDS

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