Chil­dren key to stop­ping spread of flu

Marlborough Midweek - - OUT & ABOUT - PAULA HULBURT

Doc­tors brac­ing for what could be one of the worst flu out­breaks in years have urged par­ents to get their chil­dren vac­ci­nated.

Nel­son Marl­bor­ough Health chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer Dr Nick Baker says health pro­fes­sion­als are pre­par­ing to fight a po­ten­tially lethal flu strain in New Zealand.

And as win­ter looms, he says chil­dren could be key to help­ing stop the spread of the in­fluenza virus through­out the re­gion.

A new vac­cine will be avail­able from this month in a bid to try and help safe­guard those more at risk of com­pli­ca­tions.

Baker says Nel­son Marl­bor­ough Health, in part­ner­ship with pri­mary and com­mu­nity health­care providers, is plan­ning an en­hanced vac­ci­na­tion pro­gramme as part of its preparations. He says par­ents should con­sider pay­ing for their chil­dren to be vac­ci­nated.

‘‘We also en­cour­age peo­ple to con­sider pay­ing to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren who are not el­i­gi­ble for free vac­ci­na­tion. This is be­cause there is ev­i­dence that vac­ci­nat­ing chil­dren can re­duce the spread of in­fluenza through­out com­mu­ni­ties,’’ he says.

‘‘Nel­son Marl­bor­ough Health is pre­par­ing for a sim­i­lar flu sea­son to the one ex­pe­ri­enced in the North­ern Hemi­sphere.

‘‘In the US, the high­est rates are over­whelm­ingly in peo­ple aged 65 and older, fol­lowed by peo­ple aged 50-64 and then chil­dren younger than 5 years.

‘‘Europe has also ex­pe­ri­enced greater than-usual lev­els of in­fluenza cases and this is what New Zealand health­care providers are now pre­par­ing for,’’ says Baker.

Marl­bor­ough has a higher pro­por­tion of peo­ple aged more than 65-years-old and over than any­where else in New Zealand.

Older peo­ple, young chil­dren, preg­nant women, and peo­ple with cer­tain med­i­cal con­di­tions are at a higher risk of de­vel­op­ing se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions from in­fluenza, such as pneu­mo­nia.

Con­cerns about the sever­ity of the re­s­pi­ra­tory ill­ness have prompted health care staff to con­sider com­mu­nity-wide vac­ci­na­tion clin­ics.

Chil­dren at higher risk will also be con­tacted.

‘‘A GP would call or write to their el­i­gi­ble pa­tients, and Nel­son Marl­bor­ough Health spe­cial­ists are plan­ning to con­tact par­ents of chil­dren who are seen in out­pa­tients with a con­di­tion that makes them less able to cope with flu.

‘‘We have pre­pared lists of those under five years old who have been in hos­pi­tal with re­s­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses.

‘‘We will be send­ing let­ters to make sure they know they are en­ti­tled to have funded vac­ci­na­tions. We are also look­ing at op­por­tu­ni­ties for do­ing vac­ci­na­tion clin­ics in the com­mu­nity,’’ he says.

This year’s vac­cine has been spe­cially for­mu­lated for the NZ 2018 sea­son by match­ing the viruses cir­cu­lat­ing in the North­ern Hemi­sphere.

The vac­cine does not con­tain live viruses and, while not 100 per cent ef­fec­tive, it is highly rec­om­mended by health pro­fes­sion­als.

‘‘Ef­fec­tive­ness de­pends on sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing the age and im­mune sta­tus of the re­cip­i­ent but gen­er­ally, flu im­mu­ni­sa­tion is con­sid­ered to have ‘mod­er­ate ef­fec­tive­ness’.

‘‘It ei­ther pre­vents peo­ple from con­tract­ing in­fluenza, or re­duces the sever­ity of the ill­ness,’’ says Baker.

Around one in four Ki­wis are in­fected with flu each year. Among this group, up to 80 per cent of peo­ple who are car­ry­ing the virus will have no symp­toms but will spread the virus.

‘‘Flu it­self is a se­ri­ous dis­ease, with some peo­ple ending up in hos­pi­tal and some dy­ing. Flu is not the same as a cold, and un­like a cold, a vac­cine can pro­vide some pro­tec­tion,’’ says Baker.

A jab could pre­vent your child from con­tract­ing a nasty strain of the flu virus ex­pected to hit the re­gion this win­ter.

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