7 Aug 2015

Ah-choo! Number of flu cases soar

1:15 pm on 7 August 2015

Cases of flu are continuing to rise around the country, with Canterbury particularly under the weather.

The latest weekly update from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) released late yesterday, shows the national consultation rate for flu is 112 per 100,000 people or 345 consultations in the week until last Sunday.

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Photo: 123rf

That is far below the peak consultation rate during the swine flu pandemic of 2009, or in 2010 and 2012 flu seasons.

But consultations this winter are already considerably higher than for the past two years when winters were mild - and they are still climbing.

Especially hard hit are Canterbury and south Canterbury where a B strain is mainly responsible.

Chair of Canterbury Flu Group Phillip Schroeder said the last time they had a B strain as severe was in 2005.

He said then it mainly targetted young children, but this time it is being felt across all age groups.

"Certainly the paediatric age groups are not only just contracting it, but requiring more help at times as well," said Dr Schroeder.

"We're seeing it in the over 65s. But we're also seeing it in the adults that are between those age groups, I suppose. And sometimes with devastating effects unfortunately."

He said it was having an impact on absenteeism from work and schools throughout the region.

Dr Schroeder said family doctors were working hard to manage cases in the community as much as possible, to reduce the pressure on hospitals.

"Most practices will be triaging and asking a lot of questions to see whether things can be looked after at home without being seen in a surgery. Because all the surgeries will be under pressure to be able to give same-day appointments."

Clinical director of the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital, Scott Pearson, said doctors and nurses were busy, but managing.

"I think we're coping. I think certainly there is pressure there, and I think the staff, if you talk to any of the staff here, they are well aware that we are right in the midst of flu season and winter. We know that it's always going to be busier at this time of year but we're managing the demand at this stage."

Director of the National Influenza Centre at ESR, Sue Huang, said the level of flu activity nationwide is quite high compared to the past three years, but still within a normal range.

Dr Huang urges anyone who has not had a flu jab to have one now, before the annual vaccination programme ends later this month.

The flu jab covers the main flu strains circulating in the country, an A strain mainly in the North Island at this stage, with B predominantly in the south.

This advice is reiterated by the Health Ministry which stresses that flu is at a moderate level so far this winter, although it may move higher.

Acting director of public health, Steward Jessamine said whatever strain people may catch, the symptoms will be the same.

"Influenza is a serious virus and can be life-threatening, especially for people who already have existing serious health conditions."

Anyone worried about their own or another's symptoms can call the Healthline on 0800 611 116 or ask their GP for advice.