Children key to stopping spread of flu
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.