Influenza Facts – 2015

Village HealthHealth Information

You can spread the flu to people, including your family/whanau and friends, who are at most risk of complications

While general health affects the severity of an infection, the influenza virus is contagious and anyone can become infected. Influenza, commonly called the flu, can be a serious illness that is sometimes fatal.

Infection with the influenza virus may lead to a stay in hospital for any age group but particularly if you are elderly or have an ongoing medical condition.  Influenza can make an existing medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes, a lot worse.

Even if you do not end up in hospital, influenza can keep you in bed for a week or more, preventing you from doing work or just about anything that requires leaving the house.

The flu spreads from person to person. The influenza virus is transferred in droplets of moisture expelled through breathing, coughing and sneezing.  The virus is spread when a person touches any droplets which contain the influenza virus and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

Influenza can infect up to 1 in 5 of us every year.

Influenza can affect anyone, no matter how fit, active and healthy they may be.  Although people with underlying health conditions are most at risk from influenza associated complications, previously healthy people can still become seriously ill.

Approximately 400 deaths each year in New Zealand are related to influenza infection.

The strains of influenza virus that reach New Zealand each year are usually different from the season before.  Although New Zealand had a relatively mild influenza season in 2014, this may not be the case in 2015. The virulence of strains can vary from year to year or a new strain can emerge to which people are not immune.

Annual immunisation is recommended for two reasons:

  • protection lessens over time
  • each year influenza can be caused by different influenza viruses, that are not represented in the previous year’s vaccine

Immunity develops after you have been exposed to a particular strain of the virus through infection or immunisation.  Influenza immunisation prepares and boosts your immune system to help you fight the influenza viruses expected to be circulating each year.

Seasonal influenza vaccinations are recognised as being the single most effective way of reducing the impact of seasonal influenza – especially for those most at risk of complications. This can be particularly true for the elderly.

Stop the flu before it gets you.

Get immunised. Don’t spread the flu to you family and friends.

Immunisation may be FREE for you.  Ask your doctor or nurse today.

Can influenza vaccine be given to pregnant women?

Yes. The seasonal influenza vaccine is strongly recommended for women who will be pregnant during the influenza season. Where possible, vaccines are usually given only in the second and third trimesters because vaccination with the influenza vaccine has been shown to be highly beneficial for pregnant women and their unborn babies.  New Zealand is not alone in this recommendation, influenza vaccination for all pregnant women is currently recommended by health authorities in the USA, Australia and many European countries.  Immunisation is free for pregnant women wishing to have the influenza vaccine.

Experience from previous seasonal influenza outbreaks and the 2009/2010 pandemic, showed that pregnant women are at greater risk from complications associated with influenza.

There are a range of changes that occur during pregnancy which may put pregnant women at higher risk of complications from influenza. These include changes to the lung function including decreased lung capacity; increased cardiac output and oxygen consumption, and changes to the immune response.

Because of the above changes, pregnant women with existing medical conditions are at even greater risk of severe influenza-related illness.  When pregnancy is superimposed on high-risk conditions such as asthma or diabetes mellitus, influenza infection associated illness is 3-4 times greater than for non-pregnant women.

Maternal influenza infection has been associated with an increased risk of maternal hospitalisation and other illnesses.  A small number of these women and babies die.

Vaccination of pregnant women against influenza has been shown to decrease the incidence of influenza in their newborn babies. Influenza in young infants often prompts hospitalisation and can predispose infants to bacterial pneumonia or otitis media.

How safe is the vaccine?

The vaccine cannot give you influenza as it only contains fragments of the virus.  The vaccine stimulates the immune system to make antibodies that protect against circulating viruses.  Most people have no reaction to the vaccine. Occasionally the site where the vaccination was given is red or sore for a day or two.  Some people may feel unwell for a day or two.  These are normal responses to the immunisation.

Can I Get a Free Vaccine?

Protect yourself.  Protect your family.  Protect your community.

For adults and children with long-term health conditions, pregnant women and people aged 65 years and older, influenza can be an especially serious illness.  For this reason the influenza immunisation is provided FREE to these groups.

Influenza immunisation is available FREE for those who:

  • are pregnant
  • regularly use an asthma preventer
  • have diabetes
  • have heart disease
  • have kidney problems
  • have cancer
  • have a serious medical condition
  • or are aged 65 years or over

If you do not have one of these eligible conditions, you still benefit from an influenza immunisation available, at a small cost.

Influenza immunisation is normally available between March and the end of July every year.

A small number of people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a doctor; such as those who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccine previously, or those who have a severe allergy (anaphylaxis) to chicken eggs.
The cost of a non funded flu vaccine is $25.

So don’t take the risk! Call your local GP or medical clinic and arrange your immunisation today.

You can obtain more information about influenza including frequently asked questions at:  www.influenza.org.nz

The information in this article is sourced from this website, run by the National Influenza Specialist Group of NZ.