Influenza H1N1 activity is continuing to increase with some areas reporting higher hospitalisation rates than experienced during last year's pandemic.
As at midday today, there have been 501 hospitalisations of lab-confirmed pandemic influenza H1N1 this year to date in New Zealand, including 16 people currently in intensive care with confirmed H1N1. There have been a total of 77 admissions of confirmed H1N1 to intensive care so far this year. These figures do not include influenza-like illness among people admitted to hospital without a positive H1N1 lab test result.
Pandemic influenza H1N1 is the most common strain of influenza circulating in the community, although most people will not be tested for it. For the majority of people it's a mild to moderate illness, but for some it can be serious.
So far this year there have been ten deaths reported as linked to swine flu. Six of these deaths have so far been confirmed as being due to swine flu. The death reported since last Thursday's (19/8) update occurred in the Taranaki region. Further information on this case is available from Taranaki DHB's website.
There continues to be strong uptake of recommendations to seek medical advice early - this is particularly important for people with underlying medical conditions or who are severely overweight or pregnant as they are at greater risk of a more severe illness. If you have flu-like symptoms, phoning your GP first before you go in can help them manage your care and prevent spread to others. For health advice at any time, call Healthline 0800 611 116.
Protecting yourself and others
For some people, influenza can be a very serious illness. The basic measures to protect yourself and others remain the same, but are more important as we see more influenza circulating in the community:
If you haven't yet been immunised, it's important to book in to get immunised now, as it takes up to a fortnight for the vaccine to offer its full level of protection. Young children also need a longer time as they require two doses a month apart to be assured of best protection. Immunisation is especially recommended for those at greatest risk of complications from H1N1 influenza, including women who are pregnant, very young children, severely overweight people and those with underlying medical conditions.
To allow us flexibility over the weeks ahead, the Ministry has reached an agreement with Sanofi, who will supply up to 35,000 doses of Intanza for the subsidised influenza immunisation programme. Intanza provides protection against the same strains of influenza as Vaxigrip (the brand which is currently in use) including pandemic influenza H1N1 (swine flu). Intanza is only approved for use in individuals aged 18 to 59 – therefore only individuals with chronic conditions, obese individuals or pregnant women in this age range will be subsidised for Intanza.
Intanza, perhaps best known for its very small needle, is new on the scene this year, and until now has only been available on the private market. Please be aware that, as per our planning, at some stage in the next few weeks warehouse supplies of Vaxigrip will be depleted, making Intanza the only seasonal flu vaccine available for subsidised patients.
More information can be found on the Ministry of Health's Influenza webpages at: http://www.moh.govt.nz/influenza-a-h1n1.