Otago Daily Times

Covid­19 mea­sures keep flu in its corner

- MIKE HOULA­HAN mike.houla­han@odt.co.nz Health · Medicine · Infectious Diseases · Influenza · Health Conditions · Dunedin · New Zealand

IN­FLUENZA all but van­ished from the health land­scape this year, one Dunedin GP doubt­ing she saw more than two pos­si­ble cases of the dis­ease.

Mea­sures brought in to curb the spread of Covid­19 — par­tic­u­larly the clo­sure of New Zealand’s bor­ders — had the col­lat­eral ef­fect of slash­ing the an­nual num­ber of in­fluenza cases.

The fi­nal ESR in­fluenza sur­veil­lance re­port for the year showed cases of the dis­ease barely made it to 50 per 100,000 pa­tients, a rate far be­low the low flu sea­son level of 80 cases.

By Septem­ber, vis­its to GP clin­ics and med­i­cal cen­tres for in­fluenza­like ill­nesses had dropped to al­most none, when win­ter ail­ments usu­ally lin­gered on for weeks.

Aurora Health Cen­tre GP Jill McIl­raith said, anec­do­tally, her prac­tice, as well as see­ing hardly any gen­uine in­fluenza pa­tients, had also ex­pe­ri­enced a drop­off in other vi­ral dis­eases such as chicken pox.

‘‘Be­cause of Covid­19, ev­ery­body has be­come much more aware of how dis­ease spreads, so we are see­ing much more so­cial dis­tanc­ing and hand­wash­ing,’’ Dr McIl­raith said.

‘‘It does make a real dif­fer­ence, and hope­fully that will carry on.’’

An­other im­por­tant fac­tor in ill­ness con­trol was peo­ple stay­ing home from work or school when they were ill.

Dr McIl­raith said her prac­tice had noted an early surge in the num­bers of peo­ple seek­ing med­i­cal cer­tifi­cates for ab­sence, both from em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers.

That had now dropped away with the more wide­spread ac­cep­tance that ill peo­ple should stay at home, she said.

‘‘It is quite sim­ple: peo­ple who are un­well should not be at work . . . it took four to six weeks, but then that mes­sage started to sink in.

‘‘It may make things dif­fi­cult for peo­ple who are left be­hind to pick up the pieces, but at least they don’t get sick.’’

In win­ter, as many as 80% of Aurora’s pa­tients could be suf­fer­ing from in­fluenza­like ill­nesses, but this year Dr McIl­raith said she prob­a­bly saw only a hand­ful of pa­tients with any­thing other than a cough or cold.

The New Zealand flu track­ing web­site matched the find­ings of the ESR sur­veil­lance re­port, with a 1% rate of cases among re­spon­dents recorded only once all flu sea­son — in 2019 it reached as high as 4%, and was still at 1.5% by mid­Oc­to­ber.

❛ . . . we are see­ing much more so­cial dis­tanc­ing and hand­wash­ing

Dr Jill McIl­raith

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