Whanganui GP Alan Mangan has seen almost nobody with a bout of full-on true influenza this season.

He thinks the district's vaccination programme must be working successfully.

That's backed up by Medical Officer of Health Patrick O'Connor, who said the flu season has been the quietest in many years, not only in Whanganui but right across New Zealand.

"So far sentinel practices nationally have confirmed 273 influenza positive throat swabs. The number at the same time last year was 4763."


Swabs taken to look for influenza have also been tested for other viruses, and show significant amounts of rhinovirus (colds), and respiratory syncitial virus (which mainly affects young children).

Reports from local general practices and rest homes indicate steady numbers of upper respiratory and chest infections, but the evidence is that most are not due to influenza virus, Dr O'Connor said.

Whanganui DHB paediatrician David Montgomery said the hospital was seeing high rates of severe viral respiratory infections, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Those illnesses can be caused by a number of viruses, including influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses, and adenovirus.

Children who are exposed to second hand smoke, and who live in poor housing, are more likely to need hospital treatment for them.

Their health can be improved by reducing the number of adults who smoke near them; by insulating, ventilating and heating houses properly; by reducing overcrowding; and by ensuring free routine childhood immunisations are given on time.

Also on the respiratory front, pharmacies say a number of people have been affected by pollen, perhaps a bit earlier this year than usual. Many residents noticed dustings of pollen on their cars during late August and early September.

The region will soon move into the peak season for grass pollen - the allergen that affects people most seriously.