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Alert level reached for winter flu

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Shopprice New Zealand

New Zealand has emerged from a winter in which influenza reached alert levels and killed a 4-year-old boy.

According to ESR’s weekly influenza update, July and August saw flu levels rise above the seasonal averages and, during one week in August, they hit the alert threshold.

In South Canterbury, influenza reached epidemic levels, with 611 people per 100,000 needing medical consultation in the week till August 23.

While it may have seemed most of Wellington was off sick, the figures show it was only the “normal seasonal activity” and below the weekly average.

Nationally, this winter was much worse than the past two years, but roughly on par with 2012.

All paled in comparison to 2009, when there was an influenza pandemic, Sue Huang of ESR’s National Influenza Centre said.

New Zealand had been dominated by two strains of influenza this winter. Influenza B was largely focused in the South Island, while the H3N2 strain – which was more likely to send people to hospital – stayed further north.

Symptoms for both included fever and a cough with a rapid onset, with other potential symptoms including sore muscles and throats, runny noses and, for some, breathing could become difficult. Stomach problems were also seen in some victims.

Auckland,  which was studied in more depth this year, had two deaths attributed to flu. They were a 4-year-old boy with an underlying condition and a 77-year-old woman.

“From year to year you have a few fatal cases of influenza,” Huang  said. Immunisation remained a good way to prevent getting the virus.

The flu update covered all “influenza-like illness” reported to local health boards. To confirm an illness was influenza required lab testing.

The alert threshold, reached in August, meant flu-like cases were beyond what would be expected in a normal season.

The last time New Zealand reached the higher “severe epidemic” level was in 1996.

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