ESR’s latest online Influenza Intelligence Report, for the week ending on Sunday 2 June, shows a significant rise in number of people visiting GPs with influenza-like symptoms compared with the previous week: an estimated 1900 visits over the latest week. Northland, Auckland, Tairawhiti and South Canterbury recorded the highest rates of GP visits. In addition, there have been reports coming in of outbreaks of Influenza-like illness affecting long term care facilities. Check out the Flu Surveillance Dashboard here.
Public Health Physician Shirley Crawshaw says while the number of influenza-like illnesses is up, there are no indications that Australia’s current, more intense experience of influenza will affect this country. Dr Crawshaw says indicators on the severity of influenza-like illness so far in 2019 are low. Rates of people hospitalised with severe acute respiratory infections due to flu infection have declined in the latest week. ESR’s surveillance of respiratory patients admitted to hospitals and intensive care units in the Auckland region has detected very little influenza virus in these locations.
“Even so, there are more flu viruses circulating in the community generally than we would usually see at this time of year, and the flu season seems to have started a week or two earlier than average, similar to 2016,” Dr Crawshaw says. “The predominant strains in New Zealand currently are A(H3N2) and B/Victoria viruses, and our 2019 vaccine strains are a good match for these.”
Dr Crawshaw says: “Immunisation with the seasonal influenza vaccine remains the best protection against influenza. The vaccine is funded for older people, pregnant women, those aged 4 years and under with serious respiratory illness, and people with certain medical conditions. And it is especially important that these more vulnerable people get vaccinated.”
Dr Crawshaw recommends looking at the Ministry of Health’s influenza webpage for the best-available guidance on how to avoid the spread of the virus, through personal behaviours like properly covering coughs and sneezes and good hand washing. Influenza-like illness characteristically begins with a fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and headache, and it can lead to serious complications, like pneumonia, in some.
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