Health warning: At risk urged to get flu shot

By Cassandra Mason, Sonya Bateson

Western Bay health professionals are urging high-risk patients such as those over 65 to get vaccinated before the flu virus hits.

Bay of Plenty medical officer of health Dr Jim Miller said while no influenza cases had been reported in the Bay of Plenty yet this winter, it was not too late for people in the higher risk groups to get their free flu vaccination before the July 31 deadline.

He warned that influenza could be debilitating and in some cases fatal, so it was important for people over 65 and other high risk groups to get immunised.

The Ministry of Health is reporting a "sudden rise" in influenza-like illness nationwide - but says the actual flu season is yet to hit.

Public health officials have just released tips for staying well ahead of the impending flu season in a bid to ward off the dreaded bug.

Latest Ministry of Health figures show that 57,520 in the Bay of Plenty have received flu vaccinations this year, compared with 45,780 at the same time last year.

"The subsidised vaccinations are running out, but it's not too late to get that protection," Dr Miller told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Anyone struck down by the flu was urged to stay home to prevent the virus spreading, he said.

Covering your mouth when coughing, using disposable tissues and washing hands regularly all helped prevent the flu from spreading, he said.

Dr Miller also warned of the similarity between meningitis and flu symptoms, and urged anyone with any doubts to call healthline on 0800 611 116.

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research estimates that for every 100,000 GP consultations nationally in the week to June 16, about 14 were "influenza-like-illness", rather than the actual flu.

That indicates the country is not yet into normal seasonal influenza activity, with experts saying Kiwis often mistake the common cold for the flu.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said early promotion of flu vaccination had helped stave off the flu in most preschools this year.

"People are much more conscious of the flu and its effects and the need to get vaccinated."

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said employers now had a good handle on the flu and how to prevent its spread in the workplace.

Larger employers often subsidised flu jabs, and the results were showing with few workers calling in sick.

"We haven't seen any evidence so far that it's causing major issues at work."

The influenza vaccine is free until July 31 for people with certain medical conditions, aged 65 or over, and for pregnant women.

Fifth Avenue Family Practice manager Kerry Stephens said the flu vaccination uptake had been good this year.

Greenpark School principal Graeme Lind said that on Monday the school had 50 students away but he was not sure whether that was due to winter ills or people staying home because it was cold.

Arataki School principal Dene Langley said there had been students away with colds and flu but he could not give a number.

Tips for staying well

  • Get vaccinated

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily

  • Eat healthily with selection of vegetables

  • Make sure your home is well aired

  • Reduce dampness in the home, like keeping the bathroom door shut while showering

  • Seek free health advice on 0800 611 116

Source: Auckland Regional Public Health Service

- Bay of Plenty Times

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