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NZ: Health authorities: Serious seasonal 'flu could hit NZ this winter

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  • NZ: Health authorities: Serious seasonal 'flu could hit NZ this winter

    Mon, 16 Feb 2009 5:27p.m.

    Health authorities are warning New Zealand could be hit this winter by a virulent "Brisbane strain" of flu which killed six children in Australia last year.

    Furthermore, New Zealanders could prove more vulnerable to the virus this year due to low immunisation rates and several mild flu seasons.

    Virologist Lance Jennings told the New Zealand Doctor magazine the country was due for a serious influenza season after a lull lasting several years.

    The last serious season -- in 2005 -- saw three children die from an influenza "B" strain.

    National Influenza Strategy Group chair Anne-Marie Frost said this year's vaccine included three strains.

    One, dubbed the "Brisbane strain" had killed six children in Australia last winter. European authorities have warned the strain could be the most deadly they have seen in 20 years.

    "The ingredients are all there for an influenza season much worse than we've seen before, or for a long time," she told the magazine.

    "It's a bit of a bonfire ready to go."

    This year's vaccination also contains an H1N1 strain -- a variant of which caused the 1918 flu epidemic -- and a "B" strain.


  • #2
    Re: NZ: Health authorities: Seasonal serious 'flu could hit NZ this winter

    Influenza expert calls for more use of Tamiflu

    By DEIDRE MUSSEN - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 22 February 2009

    Bird flu hasn't hit New Zealand yet, but a killer Brisbane flu's imminent threat is a prime reason to dust off your stockpiled Tamiflu.

    Influenza expert Dr Lance Jennings told the Sunday Star-Times the best way to protect against flu was vaccination, which would be available around the country from the first week in March.

    However, he said the antiviral flu drug, Tamiflu, was underused in New Zealand, despite its effectiveness in treating the potentially fatal disease if taken soon after symptoms begin.

    "A lot of people have a stockpile of Tamiflu for bird flu, but few GPs prescribe it for flu.

    "I think we need more education around the usage of this drug and for GPs so they are aware they can prescribe it for influenza."

    In 2005, the government stockpiled 855,000 doses of Tamiflu enough to treat 21% of the population and costing $26 million as part of its strategy to cope with a possible bird flu pandemic sweeping the country. The fears also prompted a buy-up of the antiviral by the public.

    Jennings, a clinical virologist at Canterbury Health Laboratories, said New Zealand was also the only country in the world to allow pharmacists to prescribe the drug, which meant people suffering flu could buy it over the counter.

    This year's flu jab would protect against three influenza virus strains most likely to hit New Zealanders in winter, including influenza A/Brisbane (H3N2), influenza A/Brisbane (H1N1) and influenza B/Florida.

    He was unaware of any deaths in New Zealand from the three strains.

    Six children's deaths in Brisbane last year were blamed on the Brisbane (H3N2) influenza strain, and it had caused a severe flu outbreak in the United Kingdom over the current northern hemisphere's winter.

    New Zealand's past few winters had been relatively mild for influenza, with the last cluster of children dying from flu in 2005, when three North Island youngsters died of an influenza B strain, Jennings said.

    "All influenza has a potential to be deadly. We have no way of predicting [this winter] will be a really bad season, but just looking at the activity of these viruses in the United States and the UK, and what happened in Australia, it's prudent to advise people there is a vaccine."

    The World Health Organisation recommends which flu strains are included in flu vaccines in both hemispheres.

    The flu jab is free for people aged 65-plus and those with certain chronic medical conditions, including asthma and heart disease.