31 May 2019

Influenza cases increase in the past week

There has been an increase in influenza like illness cases reported in New Zealand in the past week, although indicators of influenza severity still remain low.

ESR’s latest online Influenza Intelligence Report, for the week ending on Sunday 26 May, describes an increase in visits to GPs above what is usually expected for this time of year.

Nationally, the number of people presenting to GPs with influenza-like illness in the past week is estimated to have been around 1600. These numbers are still low overall, as expected for this stage of the season. South Canterbury and Auckland DHBs recorded the highest rates of GP visits for influenza-like illness in the past week.

Rates of people hospitalised with severe acute respiratory infections due to influenza are also higher than expect for this early in the season, but remain low overall. ESR carries out surveillance of respiratory patients admitted to hospitals and intensive care units in the Auckland region. So far there has been very little influenza virus detected in intensive care patients.

ESR says more than 40% of samples tested by GPs and hospitals so far in 2019 have been influenza-positive, which is one of the highest positivity rates on a year-to-date comparison with previous years. There are more influenza viruses circulating in the community and causing illness than we would usually see this time of year.

Australian influenza activity has been higher than usual in most states and territories so far in 2019. However, New Zealand authorities cannot predict from the Australian experience what the New Zealand season will be like.

Immunisation with the seasonal influenza vaccine remains the best protection against influenza. The vaccine is funded for older people, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions. ESR Public Health Physician Dr Sarah Jefferies says the viruses circulating currently are common seasonal viruses and available test results indicate that they should be well covered by the 2019 season influenza vaccine. “The predominant influenza viruses circulating in New Zealand currently are A(H3N2) and B/Victoria viruses, and our 2019 vaccine strains are currently a good match for these,” Dr Jefferies says.

Dr Jefferies recommends looking at the Ministry of Health’s influenza webpage. It gives good guidance on how to avoid the spread of the virus, by immunisation and using good personal hygiene like properly covering coughs and sneezes and good hand washing, and on the symptoms to look out for. The illness characteristically begins with a fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and headache, and it can lead to serious complications, like pneumonia, in some.

More information, contact ESR Media  

0800 ESR MEDIA (0800 377 633) or 027 405 8644

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