The fever, the aching muscles, and the sore throat of the flu are synonymous with the winter season. But as many struggle through the brain fog and congested noses, the numbers of people seriously affected by the flu have prompted warnings from health authorities who are in the midst of a major spike in hospitalisations.
One person is dead and hundreds have been hospitalised as health authorities grapple with a rapidly growing influenza outbreak amid a potential vaccine shortage.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board figures obtained by Bay of Plenty Times Weekend show, as of June 18, 206 people have already been admitted to Tauranga Hospital for the flu this year. Another person has also died from the virus.
The figures compare to just 29 flu hospitalisations and one flu death over the same time period last year.
The Ministry of Health has urged doctors and pharmacists to carefully manage vaccine supplies and prioritise people considered to be at greatest risk, such as elderly.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board's Robyn Boyne said every year the hospital saw people sick and sometimes dying from the flu. However, this year there were more cases striking earlier than in previous years.
Boyne said the pattern of the flu changed each year and it was not possible to know whether there would be more cases this year overall until the season was over.
Toi Te Ora medical officer of health Dr Jim Miller said while there had been a good uptake of vaccination across New Zealand during April and May before the onset of the flu season, vaccine stocks were now limited.
Life Pharmacy Tauranga owner Garth Mitchinson predicted the store would run out of flu vaccines within the next couple of days amidst the national shortage.
"It's quite frustrating - people want to get vaccinated but we don't have enough stock."
Before a fresh supply of vaccines came in last week, the pharmacy completely ran out for about a week and had around 35 people on a wait-list.
Mitchinson said vaccine demand had increased over the last five years and people were looking to get their vaccine earlier.
For Mount Maunganui GP Tony Farrell: "We are definitely seeing a spike."
"It's a really painful illness. The complications for the flu range from five to seven days in bed, to death."
Last week, Farrell treated a patient with pneumonia who had influenza B.
People often confused the flu with a cold or a viral infection, Farrell said.
He urged people to get vaccinated.
"Some people underestimate the risk of the flu. They say, 'oh I don't get the flu', which is like saying, 'I don't get in car accidents'."
Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said there had not been too many students sick so far but the school was on high alert, given the vaccine shortage.
Gordon said students who showed symptoms were sent home to prevent the illness from spreading.
"If we do have a potential outbreak we will act swiftly to prevent the spread," he said.
Gordon said staff were offered a free flu vaccine and around two-thirds of staff opted to get immunised.
Tauranga Boys' College principal Robert Mangan said student illness was slightly higher, with more time spent away from school this year.
Mangan said the school offered vaccinations to staff and there had been a good uptake from staff.
Tips for keeping clear of the flu
• Ensure you and your family are up to date with immunisations. Vaccines are still available for those in the at-risk groups so call your GP or health centre to arrange an appointment.
• Practice good hand hygiene - wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds and dry hands with a clean, dry towel or paper towel for 20 seconds.
• Stay warm and dry, and keep home well ventilated and heated.
If you or your family members are unwell:
• Don't spread your germs around – stay off work and school until you are feeling better.
• Practice good cough and sneeze etiquette. This means covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
• Coughing is common in children, especially when they are preschool age, and is usually short-lived. However, some coughs can be a sign of an infection and may need to be checked out by a doctor.
• A wet cough is "chesty" and phlegmy. A wet cough is not normal and may need to be checked out by a doctor.
• If your child has a sore throat – get it checked by a doctor or nurse. This can prevent rheumatic fever.
Remember health advice is just a phone call away – phone Healthline - 0800 611 116.
Source: Toi Te Ora