As New Zealanders unite to stop the spread of Covid-19, the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) is appealing to all residents to also unite against the influenza virus.
As flu season approaches, Taranaki DHB's medical officer of health, Dr Jonathan Jarman, says although the influenza vaccine won't prevent Covid-19, it will help stop the spread of influenza.
"One in four New Zealanders are infected with influenza every year. Many won't feel sick at all, but can still pass the virus onto family and co-workers."
Both Covid-19 and influenza viruses cause illness of the nose, throat and airways, and are spread person to person through direct contact, cough and sneeze droplets and contaminated surfaces.
Dr Jarman says getting an influenza vaccination will greatly lower a person's chances of catching the flu, reduce the chances of passing it on to others, and also help to reduce the load on the health system.
"We don't want to have the hospital full of people with a preventable illness like influenza while we have the threat of Covid-19 hanging over us.
"Each year we may encounter new types of influenza virus, so it's important to ensure we're vaccinated on an annual basis."
Dr Jarman says influenza can be more than just a bad cold.
"The flu is an infectious disease caused by an influenza virus and can affect anyone no matter how fit, active and healthy they may be.
"Pregnant women, newborn babies, the elderly, people with lowered immunity and those with long term medical conditions such as asthma or heart problems are at higher risk of complications and hospitalisation from influenza."
Symptoms can come on suddenly and include fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, runny nose, cough, stomach upsets and severe fatigue.
"Influenza vaccination is safe, effective and can be lifesaving for those who are the most vulnerable.
"I don't think anyone wants to catch a cough or cold this year because you won't know what it is."
Anyone with symptoms should isolate and get tested for Covid-19, he says.
"It is really important that anyone with a sniffle or a slight sore throat should go into isolation and get immediately tested for Covid-19."
TDHB's general manager for Māori Health, Ngawai Henare, says Māori have the highest susceptibility to flu-related illness that ultimately places disproportionate demands on the health system. Vaccinating reduces the burden on whānau and on health services, she says.
"While we've been working to vaccinate our vulnerable population early, we're encouraging everyone to get their flu shot in these weeks leading into winter."
GPs and some pharmacies are currently offering vaccinations. Influenza vaccinations are free for eligible people including pregnant women, people aged 65 years or older, people aged under 65 years with diabetes, most heart or lung conditions and some other long-term illnesses. Children aged 4 years or under who have had a stay in hospital for asthma or other breathing problems are also eligible.