Deaths in New Zealand from pneumonia and influenza could rise

Last updated 09:32, May 3 2018

Last month Nelson Marlborough Health chief medical officer and pediatrician Dr Nick Baker says there could be three times as many flu cases this year compared with the last season.

This year’s flu season could be the most deadly in years, following trends from the northern hemisphere.

In 2015, there were 767 deaths from the flu and pneumonia, according to Ministry of Health data, and the majority were women. That’s about seven people out of 100,000 – compared with 49 people per 100,000 in 1970.

Health 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.

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Earlier this year, a new strain of the flu virus overseas resulted in a significant increase in hospitalisations and emergency department admissions from influenza and its complications. There were 40,414 deaths in the US during the third week of 2018, according to the most recent data available, and 4064 were from pneumonia or influenza.

Last month, 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.

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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, he said.

People can get their flu shot for free if they’re at high risk of getting influenza, including those aged 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with chronic or serious health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer or severe asthma.

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