Vaccine urged as flu season starts
Influenza season has begun to make its impact felt in the community and experts are urging people to get vaccinated.
Capital & Coast District Health Board infectious diseases physician Tim Blackmore says the number of flu cases in the community usually rises steeply from mid-to-late June, and anyone not yet vaccinated should get in quickly, before they catch the bug.
CCDHB figures show consultations for flu-like symptoms were more than twice the national average in the Wellington region in the past few weeks, but this season was unlikely to be a bad one for influenza, Dr Blackmore said.
The wide spread of the swine flu H1N1 virus in 2009 had provided immunity to the same strain and some closely related ones, he said.
‘‘ It will definitely be lower than 2009. The Wellington region wasn’t super-big last year because we’d had such a big year in 2009. I doubt whether it’d be bigger than last year.’’
But reducing the virus in the community was a long-term fight, and vaccination was important for protecting people vulnerable to the virus, which could be deadly in extreme cases, he said.
‘‘We want people to be protected against influenza so they don’t get sick and spread it.’’
Most people in the community are not vulnerable to the flu, but children and the elderly are among those who are.
About two or three cases of influenza a day were being identified through Wellington Hospital laboratories, he said, but this only represented cases severe enough to be hospitalised, since general practitioners do not routinely take samples in suspected flu cases.
‘‘ Some are children, some adults. Many are H3 [strain] and one or two influenza B, and none of the [H1N1] pandemic flu from last year.’’
Dr Blackmore compared the risk of going without the vaccine to the risk of crossing the road without looking – you might get away with it once, but it is wiser to take precautions like looking first because the more you do it, the more likely you are to get hit.
‘‘It’s a very safe vaccine. It’s common to get a bit of achiness or a sore arm, but it’s very unusual to get anything more than that,’’ he said.
Until July 31 the influenza vaccination is free for people at risk of complications – anyone with long-term health conditions, those aged over 65 and pregnant women.
Community doctors have stocks of the vaccine on hand, so patients do not have to attend a special clinic. The vaccine takes about 14 days to build up to its full effect in the body, and gets more effective each consecutive year a patient has it, he said.