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Swine Flu - Update 159

11 November 2009
Media Release

Pandemic Influenza (H1N1) 09 Swine Flu - Update 159

Although the number of new pandemic influenza cases in New Zealand is now low, the virus is still circulating and causing illness in our communities. It is therefore important that people stay alert to the signs and symptoms of disease, and that the health sector remains vigilant in case of any significant increase in cases.

The need for constant vigilance is being demonstrated by the unusually early start to the winter influenza season across many countries in Europe and Asia, as well as parts of the United States, Mexico and Canada.

New Zealanders travelling overseas should be aware of countries in which pandemic influenza is widespread, and take precautions by regularly washing and drying their hands and staying away from people who are sick. If travellers have any health conditions that may put them at risk from influenza, they should discuss this with their GP before travelling.

Individuals that have been identified as “at risk” of more complicated or severe illness associated with infection by the pandemic influenza virus include: pregnant women, infants and children under 5 years, patients who are severely obese or with chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory or liver disease, or diabetes, and patients with immunosuppression related to treatment for cancer or due to other diseases.

We are alert to any signs of a second wave of this pandemic influenza virus as occurred in previous pandemics. We have taken stock of what we have learned from the first wave and there is considerable work already underway to be ready for any second wave.

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International situation

The World Health Organization’s update as of 6 November 2009 cited over 482,300 laboratory-confirmed cases and at least 6071 deaths. Although active monitoring by WHO has so far detected no signs that the pandemic influenza virus has mutated to a more virulent form, infections in different animal species (pig, turkey, ferret, cat and mink) have been reported. WHO stressed that these infections were isolated events and pose no special risks to human health.

WHO also reported that influenza-like illness (ILI) due to the pandemic influenza virus continues to increase across many countries of Europe and central and western Asia as well as parts of North America. Visits to doctors for ILI in the US, Mexico and Canada exceeded levels seen over the past six flu seasons.

Temperate regions of the southern hemisphere (which includes New Zealand) report declining influenza activity.

Further information on the progress of the pandemic is available on the WHO website: http://www.who.int/csr/don/2009_11_06/en/index.html .

GP consultations

Data from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research’s sentinel general practice surveillance system show that visits to doctors for ILI continue to decline but are still slightly higher than the level recorded at the same time last year.

Graph of weekly rate of ILI GP presentations per 100,000 registered population for all ages

ENDS

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