Last updated 17:44, April 6 2018
This year’s flu season could be three times worse than last year, with deaths likely, following trends from the northern hemisphere.
Nelson Marlborough Health chief medical officer and pediatrician Dr Nick Baker said the flu season in Europe and the US had been as bad as the 2009 swine flu pandemic, during which 49 people in New Zealand died after contracting the A(H1N1) virus.
“It really puts pressure on emergency departments, intensive care units and in wards, with lots and lots of patients in corridors."
Baker said figures comparing the recent northern hemisphere influenza season with the 2009 pandemic showed there could be three times as many flu cases this year compared with the last season, in terms of admissions to hospital.
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Baker said the last two winters had been “exceptionally mild" for influenza both across New Zealand and in the top of the south which gave people a false sense of security.
The board had planned an enhanced vaccination programme as part of its preparations for the flu season.
“We have to do everything possible to prevent it, but we do expect to be under pressure."
Authorities have updated this year’s flu vaccine to include immunisation against the life-threatening flu strain A (H3N2), nicknamed “Aussie Flu".
Last winter the deadly strain affected about 230,000 Australians and killed nearly 750.
About 400 New Zealanders die from the flu or related complications each year.
Baker said the vaccine arrived in New Zealand on Thursday, and Nelson Marlborough Health would be administering the vaccine from April 16.
Mum Charlotte Thynne was in Nelson Hospital having recently given birth to her third baby. She said if the flu vaccine had arrived before she gave birth, she would have opted for it. Thynne said she had the vaccination while pregnant with her two other children, both of whom were born in June.
“I think I will get it now anyway, just to protect her and the family.
“You do just get knocked by things when you are pregnant."
Thynne said she knew of children that couldn’t have vaccinations because of conditions like cancer so she thought it was important to do her bit to provide protection against influenza in the wider community.
Pregnant women are one of the at risk groups who are offered the flu vaccination for free.
Baker said women who received the flu vaccination while pregnant passed on immunity to their babies for the first six months of their life.
He said influenza was a “very nasty disease" compared to the common cold.
“There’s the cough, runny nose, sore throat but there’s often a very severe fever, lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and weight loss. It is a whole body disease."
About one in four New Zealanders are infected with flu each year. Of those, up to 80 per cent of the people with the virus had no symptoms.
“This means that they won’t feel sick at all but are still passing it on to their family, co-workers and friends."
Baker said it was important for people to get the vaccine as early as possible so they had several weeks for it to take effect before they were exposed to the flu.
“The more people vaccinated the less the flu spreads, which keeps everyone else safer."
Pregnant woman, people over 65, those with chronic conditions, children under five who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness are eligible for a free flu shot.
The influenza virus is easily spread – from coughs, sneezes or by touching some surfaces.
Being fit and healthy won’t stop you getting the flu.
The vaccine has been specially formulated for the NZ 2018 season, by matching the viruses circulating in the northern hemisphere.
There are no live viruses in the vaccine.
You need a flu shot every year, before winter for best protection.
Source: Nelson Marlborough Health