A pre-winter flu virus is sweeping the country, prompting
health officials to urge New Zealanders to get an early flu
It is the same A (H1N1) flu strain, commonly known as swine
flu, that caused the 2009 pandemic and struck down 780,000
people, and one in every three school children.
Already this year, eight cases have been reported at Hawke's
One woman, aged in her 50s, has been in a critical condition
in intensive care there for 13 days.
A Wellington workplace was affected last month and people
have been found with the acute illness in Christchurch and
Oamaru this week.
Two cases of H1N1 have been also been confirmed in the small
South Canterbury farming town of Geraldine.
The early season flu has hit the town badly, nearly closing
the local GP after its staff were laid low with the virus,
and also running through the local supermarket.
Director of Public Health, Dr Darren Hunt said national
surveillance of influenza-like illness indicates that the
spread of the virus is "at about the same level that we would
expect to see at this time of year".
However, virologist Dr Lance Jennings said it was rare for a
flu to spread so widely through a community.
"There is something unusual going on," he said yesterday
Given that people have been hospitalised with the sickness,
Dr Jennings - a spokesman for National Influenza Specialist
Group - said it highlighted the fact that flu could be a
serious disease and that it could hit some people harder than
While the flu season normally peaked mid-winter, the recent
cases meant people should get immunised now and not wait
until they felt the sniffles.
"[It] gives you the best chance of being protected," Dr
"Although this particular virus can lead to serious
complications for pregnant women and younger, previously
healthy people, the good news is it is covered by the 2014
"So we strongly advise people to talk to their doctor or
nurse soon to arrange a vaccination."
Influenza activity has been high during the North American
winter, with H1N1 the prominent virus, and at its highest
levels since 2009.
The flu affecting North America is usually a good indicator
of what to expect in a New Zealand winter.
The anti-viral medicine sold here under the name Tamiflu is
seen as the most effective way to combat H1N1.
It's not clear how many cases of flu there have been in New
Zealand this year, as it's not a notifiable disease.
More than 540,000 people had already been given a flu shot,
the Ministry of Health confirmed yesterday.
It has set a target of 1.2 million people vaccinated by the
end of July.
Even fit, tough rugby players aren't immune from the virus.
The entire Crusaders squad got their flu shot after a
training session this week.
"During the rugby season there's no time to be sick," said
coach Todd Blackadder.
Pregnant women and their newborn babies are at particular
risk of catching the virus, and Dr Jennings urged them to get
It is free from a GP or nurse until July 31, 2014 for New
Zealanders at high risk of complications - pregnant women,
people aged 65 and over, and anyone under 65 years of age,
including children six months and older, with long-term
health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes,
respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and
For further information go to www.fightflu.co.nz or www.health.govt.nz/influenza
or call 0800 IMMUNE 0800 466 863.
* Wash and dry hands often
* Stay away from people who are sick
* Stay away from work or school if unwell
* Cover coughs and sneezes