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Wintry blast sees sudden rise in flu cases

Wintry blast sees sudden rise in flu cases

Chilly winter weather appears to have brought with it a sudden rise in influenza cases and other respiratory infections around the country.

Latest ESR general practice surveillance data shows a national consultation rate of 58.0 per 100,000 (220 influenza-like-illness consultations) which indicates normal seasonal influenza activity. The consultation rate has, however, almost doubled in the past month.

"It's not too late for eligible New Zealanders to protect themselves with a free flu vaccination - the Government's subsidised season ends on July 31.

Dr Lance Jennings, a virologist and spokesperson for the National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG)1, says that all three types of influenza virus currently in circulation (pandemic HINI 09 (swine flu), H3N2 and B virus) are covered by the 2011 season influenza vaccine.

"We're also seeing other respiratory viral infections, including common colds, in the community and it's important people don't confuse them with actual influenza. They may have some similar symptoms but they're not the same thing."

He says influenza is a serious disease, especially for people with underlying medical conditions. It can make their condition much worse and lead to hospitalisation and even death. Influenza is usually characterized by a sudden onset of illness, high fever, headache, a dry cough and usually lasts 7-10 days.

"Contrary to a widely-held myth, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live virus. Unfortunately some people may be incubating a common cold when vaccinated and then develop respiratory symptoms due to a non-influenza virus.

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"Around a million people have already been vaccinated but that still leaves many vulnerable people unprotected.

"People, especially those in at-risk groups, should be immunised as soon as possible. Influenza cases traditionally begin to rise sharply at this time of year and it takes up to two weeks to develop full protection after vaccination."

Influenza vaccinations are free from medical practices until the end of July for New Zealanders in these groups:

Pregnant women;

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.

For free health advice, call Healthline 0800 611 116. For advice about influenza immunisation visit www.fightflu.co.nz or text FLU to 515.

Ends

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