WINTER viruses have taken a grip in Gisborne. Doctor’s surgeries are overflowing and a stream of sick people have passed through the hospital emergency department.
Ten children have been admitted to hospital with breathing problems and more than 70 people have attended the emergency department with flu symptoms over the past few days, says Tairawhiti District Health medical officer of health Geoff Cramp.
While medical staff were keeping up with patients, often the only thing that could be done was to advise people to stay at home, take panadol, drink lots of water and wait for the worst of the symptoms to pass, he said.
“With children it is not so easy. We had more than 10 admissions over the past four days with breathing complications. Many staff in the hospital have been caught out too.”
Workplaces and schools in the city have also been hit by absences because of flu-like illnesses, with Gisborne Girls’ High School reporting about 10 percent of students away with flu-like symptoms this week.
“There are definitely larger numbers away than usual,” says principal’s PA Jude Conway.
“More staff than usual have been absent. A public health nurse visited the school last term and many took the opportunity to get vaccinated for flu.”
People visiting their doctor say appointments have been double and sometimes triple booked to get through them.
“The doctor I saw said she could only allocate five minutes . . . it was chaos at the surgery really. Sick people everywhere but I got there in the end,” said one woman, now on antibiotics for a persistent cough.
Pharmacy 53 dispensary manager Sarah Deighton says some customers have presented with flu-like symptoms.
Kevin Pewhairangi of David Moore Pharmacy says some people have shown respiratory symptoms and have been prescribed with medication to help their breathing, but that this is normal for this time of year.
Dr Cramp says it is still not too late to be immunised.
“The vaccine kicks in about 11 days after getting the jab. The Ministry of Health has extended the time when immunisation is free to those who are eligible, until the end of August.
“Staff in the hospital are all offered the vaccine. The same is done in many work places through their occupational health services.”
The 2012 seasonal influenza vaccine offers protection against strains of influenza, one of which is similar to the H3N2 strain described as “epidemic” in Christchurch late last month.
Dr Cramp says “we have had both the Perth H3N2 and the California H1N1 strain isolated from cases in our community, so it is likely these are circulating in Gisborne. The good news is that the vaccine contains both these strains, so it will provide protection”
TDH communications manager Kathy McVey says patients booked for elective surgery have not been affected by the flu outbreak.
“If we’re expecting a flood of people presenting with serious flu symptoms, we would not have beds free for patients in need of elective surgery. There has been no disruptions to date.”
Flu is a viral illness that causes a sudden sore throat and cold symptoms, together with fever, chills, headache and muscle pains. Some strains also cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
Mr Cramp says most often, flu gets better over a week or so. Sometimes it can cause complications and it can have a more severe effect on those who have other health conditions, are pregnant, or have babies.