Influenza cases are rising in Whanganui amid a national vaccine shortage which has left local clinics unable to meet demand.

Between May and June this year, 15 people have been admitted to Whanganui Hospital for the influenza virus compared to one person admitted in 2018.

"The admissions for influenza or influenza-type illness to the Whanganui DHB for the period May-June 2019 is higher than last year, however, we are experiencing an earlier influenza season," said Mark Dawson, from the Whanganui District Health Board.

As of June 9, the New Zealand Influenza Intelligence Report found an influenza-like illness in New Zealand was above the seasonal baseline threshold with over 45 per cent of samples tested in hospitals and by GPs being influenza-positive, the highest positivity rates for this period in recent years.


With an earlier season, the demand for influenza vaccine is hitting near-record levels leaving many communities throughout the country in short supply.

Unichem Pharmacy Whanganui has already run out of vaccine and will not be distributing any more until next season.

"Demands have been higher than normal and then when people heard it was running out the demand increased even more," Adam Holmes, a Unichem pharmacist, said.

As of June 21, 1.3 million doses of influenza vaccination had been distributed nationwide with the Ministry of Health now asking providers to prioritise stock for those most at risk of the harmful effects of the flu.

Dawson said that, by the end of May, 64 per cent of over 65-year-olds in the Whanganui region had been vaccinated compared to 2018 as a whole during which 69 per cent of over 65-year-olds were vaccinated.

"In keeping with the national picture, Whanganui has suffered from a shortage of vaccines with a number of GP practices running out. Efforts are being made to source more vaccine stock," he said.

Springvale Medical Centre said it was following the Ministry of Health's guidelines and treating only those who need immunisation the most.

These included pregnant women, those aged 65 and over, children aged 4 and younger with severe respiratory illness and those with certain chronic illnesses.

Whanganui GPs and pharmacies are running out of flu vaccine as an inflenza outbreak strikes. Photo / File
Whanganui GPs and pharmacies are running out of flu vaccine as an inflenza outbreak strikes. Photo / File

The Whanganui Chronicle understands a number of schools in Whanganui have had a large increase in student absences due to the spread of influenza and other winter bugs.

In Waiouru last week, an influenza outbreak caused the Army to postpone a graduation ceremony as a third of the 87 recruits were diagnosed with the virus.

Recruit Regular Force 393's graduation was rescheduled to be held in a fortnight after the "sudden onset" of the flu at the Army Depot in Waiouru.

In a Facebook post, the NZ Army said soldiers were receiving medical support and measures were being implemented throughout the camp to ensure the virus was contained.

Last week, a surveillance report released by ESR (the Institute of Environmental Science and Research) showed there had been a significant increase in influenza-like illness in the week to June 16 across New Zealand.

Hospitalisation rates for influenza-positive respiratory infection cases were running about six times higher than normal for this time of year.

The outbreak has been particularly bad in the Bay of Plenty where one person has died and 206 people had been admitted to Tauranga Hospital.

Symptoms to watch out for

•High fever and a headache
•Unusual tiredness and "aching all over".
•Cough. This can be common in children, especially when they are preschool age, and is usually short-lived. However, some coughs can be a sign of an infection. A wet cough, which is "chesty" and phlegmy may need to be checked out by a doctor.
•Sore throat. If your child has a sore throat – get it checked by a doctor or nurse. This can prevent rheumatic fever.
•Whanganui DHB encourages anyone with these symptoms to call their GP or Healthline as they may need medication which is best started within the first 24-48 hours of symptoms.

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 high-risk groups so call your GP or health centre for information.

•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 homes 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.

•Practise good cough and sneeze etiquette. This means covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or coughing or sneezing into your elbow.

•Phone Healthline if you need information or advice - 0800 611 116.

Source: Toi Te Ora