The flu season is under way and the public has been warned - it
could be a nasty one.
The latest flu report showed there were 75 flu cases identified
in the last week of June, marking a steady two-week rise as the
By far the highest number of cases reported was in the Bay of
Plenty, followed by the Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay. All three areas,
and the central North Island Lakes district, had a higher than
average number of reported flu cases.
Sue Huang, virologist at the Institute of Environmental Science
and Research (ESR), said the country had entered the flu season,
although how bad it would get was difficult to predict.
Flu cases had been tracking at slightly fewer than last year,
but that could quickly change.
"We can never predict precisely but it's seems to be a normal
season and it's moving upwards."
One big, and potentially dangerous, change was the strains
floating around this year. Last winter A(H1N1) - the strain
labelled "swine flu" in 2009 - was the main player in New
However, early signs indicated that this year's more prevalent
strain was A(H3N2), a strain that had already been blamed for
a particularly deadly flu season in the northern hemisphere.
Huang said the strain was more likely to cause severe illness
than swine flu, particularly among the elderly, the sick and in
"It is a nastier strain. Vulnerable groups tend to suffer more,
and end up needing hospital care."
The good news was that,
unlike in the northern hemisphere, flu vaccinations in New Zealand
underwent some last-minute changes to provide resistance against
For the vulnerable groups it was particularly important to get a
vaccination, Huang said.
Wellington doctor Nikki Turner, who is also director of the
Immunisation Advisory Centre, said she had seen a definite upswing
in flu patients coming into the office.
"In the last two weeks we've started to see flu illness rather
that just respiratory illness."
Some of her Wellington medical colleagues had seen flu patients
who were so sick that they had been sent straight to hospital.
Turner said nearly 1.2 million had now had their flu jabs but
many people, even health workers, seemed to still believe they were
immune. But not getting immunised put them and other more
vulnerable people at risk.
"People just don't think they are going to get it, but it's not
just about them."
While there had been a spike in cases, it was still too early to
predict whether it would be a severe, or benign, flu season. "Only
God has a feel for the season at this time of year."
People who have come down with flu should regularly wash their
hands, keep their "social distance" from others, and avoid turning
up to the doctor's spluttering all over other patients.
Flu jabs would still be still free until the end of July for
people who were over 65, pregnant, or had a long-term health