Northland residents are being advised to get a flu vaccine in the next month, with working-age adults potentially most at risk of contracting a nasty bout of aches and pains.

The seasonal flu vaccine programme has been extended to the end of August, because a mild start to winter means winter flu rates are still rising.

Ministry of Health figures show more than 37,220 flu vaccines have been distributed in Northland District Health Board area this year, with 1.19 million being distributed nationwide since the programme launched on March 11.

Whangarei pharmacist Iain Buchanan said his Buchanan's Amcal Pharmacy had offered vaccines for three years and had seen a steady increase in customers over that time.


"When we go out into workplaces, more of the staff with the workplace have been taking up the offer from their employers for vaccinations.

"Whereas in previous years when we've been out it's been a fairly ho-hum response between the staff."

His pharmacy offered flu vaccines for adults aged 18 and over, and the vaccine was most popular among working adults who wanted to get the vaccine done quickly.

"They are the ones who are healthy now and they don't want to go to the doctors where there's people who are sick."

A virus expert is warning that working-age adults aged between 20-49 are particularly at risk of contracting flu this year.

Institute of Environmental Science and Research virologist Sue Huang said the past two weeks had seen an increase in winter flu rates and several strains of H1N1 virus - commonly known as swine flu - were prominent this year.

In the 2009 global swine flu pandemic, young children in particular were hit hard and have since developed better immunity to the H1N1 virus.

However, young adults escaped the worst at the time and did not need to develop such high immunity levels, meaning they were now more susceptible to the virus.

"I would encourage young people to get more vaccinations," Dr Huang said.

"Vaccination is really the most effective way to deal with seasonal flu."

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew announced last week that winter flu cases were rising and had not yet peaked.

"As the peak is still to come, hospitals are likely to see more people with the illness, so it is worthwhile to extend the funded vaccination season." The vaccine was due to be funded until July 31.

The seasonal influenza immunisation programme is free for people aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions such as severe asthma, and children under 5 who have been hospitalised for a respiratory illness. APNZ