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Mild flu season no cause for complacency

Mild flu season no cause for complacency

Health professionals are warning whanau, parents and caregivers not to drop their guard against influenza despite figures showing that the 2013 NZ winter flu season was one of the mildest recorded for more than 20 years.

Surveillance figures by the Southern Hemisphere Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance (SHIVERS) Project recorded that the influenza hospitalisation rate of 22.6 per 100 000 during 29th April to 29th September 2013 was lower than that the 34.4 per 100 000 recorded during the same period in 2012.

The proportion of total hospital deaths caused by severe acute respiratory infections also fell from 27.3 per 1000 deaths in 2012 to 13 per 1000 deaths in 2013.

Despite the lower rates SHIVERS Principal Investigator Dr Sue Huang from ESR says the flu still poses a very real health risk, especially to those from Pacific and low socio-economic communities and those under four or over 65 years old.

“Everyone needs to pay close attention to warning signs and not treat every onset of sickness the same. People need medical advice if they are suddenly taken ill with symptoms that include a high temperature (over 38 degrees) and coughing,” Dr Huang says.

This year’s SHIVERS study was expanded to capture data from patients visiting their GP in Auckland.

Associate Professor Nikki Turner, Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) at the University of Auckland and co-lead of the SHIVERS project, says the inclusion of general practice data in this year’s study has provided a more complete picture of flu.

“It’s alerted us to what’s happening in the community as well as in hospitals.

“School aged children are particularly vulnerable to getting the flu, and because of the many circles they tend to move in, are also highly likely to pass it on to others in home and community,” Dr Turner says.

The SHIVERS team expects this year’s results to give them a better understanding of the ‘pyramid’ of the disease from mild to severe illness, ICU admissions and deaths in the population, along with the impact on vulnerable subgroups.

“SHIVERS produces the kind of information we need to stay on top of response measures and also helps our colleagues in the Northern Hemisphere better prepare for their flu seasons,” Dr Huang says.

This year’s SHIVERS results will be presented to sponsors and partners at a Science Meeting at the University of Auckland’s Tamaki Innovation Campus between 18 and 20 November.



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