Medical experts in New Zealand are bracing themselves for the
arrival of a deadly flu that is sweeping the US which has
already killed 20 children.
Authorities here say they are prepared and this year's flu
vaccine has been upgraded to cope with the vicious strain.
The H3N2 virus struck early in the northern hemisphere winter
and has spread quickly.
In New York alone, where a state of emergency has been
declared, more than 19,000 cases of influenza have already
been reported - almost five times the number reported at the
same time last year.
Last week, 7 per cent of deaths in the US were blamed on
pneumonia and the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and
The country's health system is creaking under the strain and
vaccine shortages have been reported in some areas.
The National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG) in New Zealand
says the US flu resembles the same 'Victoria' strain which
struck Christchurch last year.
A serious outbreak of the H3N2 strain of virus, which caused
nausea and hallucinations, resulted in Christchurch Hospital
struggling to cope last winter.
Six people ended up in intensive care, and at its peak around
50 patients were isolated as the health board battled to
bring it under control.
The 2013 flu vaccine has been adapted to include the Victoria
strain which top virologist Dr Lance Jennings says should
provide ''adequate protection'' against the new strain
terrorising the States.
But while last winter was ''a relatively mild to moderate''
flu season - outside of Canterbury - Dr Jennings believes
that the H3N2 virus will have an impact.
''This virus will affect New Zealand and we are likely to see
regions more severely affected,'' said the NISG spokesman,
speaking yesterday from an influenza conference in Phoenix,
The outbreak was the talk of the conference this week, he
While tens of thousands of Americans die every year from flu,
even in non-epidemic years, it's estimated that around 400
people die each year in New Zealand, either directly or
Influenza can make other conditions, including respiratory or
heart problems, even worse.
Flu immunisation is free for New Zealanders at high risk of
more severe disease and complications, including pregnant
women, people aged 65 and over, and anyone with on-going
A spokeswoman for NISG today said this winter's vaccine will
be available early March, after it arrives in the country, is
approved by medical regulatory body Medsafe, and then rolled
out to all doctor's surgeries.
Dr Jennings said the vaccination programme was planned "well
in advance'' to ensure there was enough stock to last a bad
The flu season usually starts in June, he said, with peak
activity late June, July, or August, depending on the season.
The best protection against it is still the flu jab, Dr
Jennings said, adding that people should not become
complacent after a mild season.
"Influenza is a serious disease, and unfortunately people die