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World watches as NZ starts flu campaign

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand's national free influenza immunisation campaign was officially launched in Wellington today by the National Influenza Specialist Group (NISG) 1.

The campaign this year to protect New Zealand's at-risk population from this serious illness may, however, also have a global impact.

This is the first year of a major international five-year flu study being funded by the US Government's Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and conducted by New Zealand scientists in the Auckland region. The "SHIVERS" (Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance) project aims to help improve international knowledge prevention and treatment of flu by looking at what proportion of the population gets flu each year, which groups are hardest hit, how often flu is the underlying cause of death, and how effective flu vaccines are among certain groups of the population.

In 2011, influenza vaccine uptake reached just under a million doses (993,500 doses) as at July 30, 2011) and NISG, which promotes the immunisation campaign, says coverage needs to be even higher particularly to protect people who are more vulnerable to the complications of influenza.

NISG spokesperson and virologist Dr Lance Jennings says A (H1N1) virus (Swine Flu) is still in circulation along with A (H3N2) and B viruses, and the seriousness of all of these influenza viruses shouldn't be underestimated.

"Influenza is not just a 'bad cold'. Although some of the symptoms may be similar, influenza is usually much more severe. Influenza may lead to serious complications, particularly in people with an existing medical condition.

"Although influenza is mild-to-moderate for most people, it can lead to serious complications and even death for others. And even a moderate bout of influenza can prevent you from working, studying or enjoying other activities for a week or more."

Influenza immunisation is free for New Zealanders at high risk of more severe disease and complications - pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and anyone with ongoing health conditions such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers.

Although people with underlying health conditions are most at risk from influenza-associated complications, previously healthy people can still become seriously ill.

Influenza vaccine is only free for eligible groups from a doctor or nurse until July 31. Vaccine is available to other population groups for a small charge. Immunisation is available, but not subsidised, for healthy children.

In 2012 the strains covered by the vaccine are:

A(H1N1)pdm09-like virus (Swine Flu);

A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus;

B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.

"Most years, the strains covered by the seasonal influenza vaccine change because influenza viruses evolve unpredictably. In 2012, however, the strains are the same as in 2011. People who were vaccinated last year, however, should still be vaccinated again this year because the immunity offered by current vaccines lessens over time, so a further vaccination is likely to offer better protection for the 2012 season."

The 2012 seasonal influenza vaccines are manufactured using technology which has been widely in use internationally for 60 years, and which has an excellent safety record. 2.3

Influenza immunisation cannot give you the flu because it does not contain live viruses. There can be side effects, and these usually disappear within 1-2 days without treatment.

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