GISBORNE people should prepare for the arrival of the influenza virus that has hit other parts of New Zealand, says Tairawhiti District Health medical officer of health, Dr Geoffrey Cramp.
National Influenza Specialist Group spokesman Dr Lance Jennings says parts of New Zealand have been hit by the H3N2 influenza virus.
An epidemic of H3N2 strain of influenza in Christchurch has put 60 people in hospital, while 12 are critically ill. The virus is expected to head north and is said to be worse than swine flu.
In the past couple of weeks, five possible flu cases have been reported by a Gisborne general practice that looks for cases of influenza as part of the national surveillance system. These cases are yet to be confirmed by laboratory tests.
Because of the spread of infection in some areas, the Ministry of Health has announced the extension of the publicly- funded influenza vaccine programme to the end of August.
“The eligibility for free influenza vaccine remains the same for those who are at highest risk of severe complications. This includes pregnant women, people 65 and over, and anyone with ongoing health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease — including asthma — kidney disease and most cancers,” Dr Cramp says.
The 2012 seasonal influenza vaccine offers protection against three strains of influenza. These include pandemic influenza H1N1, or swine flu, and H3N2.
Two Gisborne schools say the number of absences due to winter illnesses are usual for this time of year, and Kaiti Medical Centre chief executive Ingrid Collins says no-one has presented with full-blown flu yet.
“Our isolation means we are often prevented from coming into contact with viruses in the first instance . . . but it is on its way.”
Two years ago, New Zealand Doctor reported an H3N2 strain caused an epidemic in 1996, which resulted in patients waiting in hospital corridors because hospitals could not cope.
Symptoms produced by the H3N2 strain include hallucinations, crippling fevers and nausea.
There are other ways people can protect themselves.
• Wash and dry your hands often.
• Stay away from people who are sick.
• Stay away from work or school if you’re unwell.
• Cover your coughs and sneezes.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Don’t share drinks.