Swine flu survivor urges vaccination

By Martin Johnston

Bonnie Leung advises taking the vaccine. Photo / Natalie Slade
Bonnie Leung advises taking the vaccine. Photo / Natalie Slade

It is more than a year since Bonnie Leung nearly died from pandemic swine flu, and she is still suffering after-effects.

The Auckland University medical student, now aged 22 and in her fifth year, fell ill at the height of the swine flu pandemic in July 2009.

It began with what she thought was a cold - a runny nose and weariness - but soon progressed to a fever, chills and aches, to the point where she couldn't get out of bed.

She lives in Bucklands Beach with her parents and her mother took her to Middlemore Hospital. "I sensed there was something very wrong when they took me into resus and started putting lots of lines in."

Struggling to breathe and unable to state her own name to hospital staff, she was admitted to the intensive care unit. With pneumonia in both lungs caused by the flu virus, she was put into an induced coma for two weeks, her breathing done for her by a ventilator machine.

Miss Leung pulled through, but she lost weight, muscle strength and co-ordination.

At first, she had difficulty walking, reading and even eating.

However, she regained her strength, resumed her studies and has now largely recovered, although she still has less physical endurance than before the illness.

Today, Miss Leung becomes the face of the annual influenza vaccination campaign, urging people to have the injections, and having one herself.

There was no vaccine against "pandemic influenza H1N1 09" - swine flu - when Miss Leung fell ill. But last year and this year swine flu is one of three strains covered by the vaccine.

"There are side-effects with the vaccine," Miss Leung said yesterday. "At the same time, it's not worth taking the risk of getting so ill like I did."

Pharmac is funding two flu vaccines this year, Fluvax and Fluarix.

Fluvax, made by CSL, was associated with several cases of fever-related convulsions in young New Zealand children last year.

The National Influenza Strategy Group says Fluvax is approved for use in people aged 5 years and over but should be used with caution in children aged 5 to 8.

"The Ministry of Health recommends that Fluvax should only be given to [those] aged 9 years and over."

The strategy group's clinical spokeswoman, Dr Nikki Turner, said people needed to be vaccinated as soon as possible before winter because it could take up to two weeks to develop immunity.

Flu was a mild to moderate illness for most, she said, but could cause serious complications and death.

From January to September last year, 727 people were hospitalised with laboratory-confirmed pandemic influenza. Sixteen deaths last year were linked to the strain, of which all were lab-confirmed.

VACCINE CAMPAIGN

* Flu vaccination available now.
* Costs about $20-$25 from health centres.
* State-funded until July 31 for people aged 65 or older, anyone aged over 6 months with various chronic health conditions, and pregnant women.
* Many employers pay for their staff to be vaccinated.
* Common adverse reactions include irritability and fever among young children, and redness and pain at injection site for all ages.

- NZ Herald

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