Cantabrians could be in the firing line for a deadly flu strain coming from the Northern Hemisphere.
Plans are under way to counter the life-threatening influenza A H3N2 strain, which has cause carnage in Europe and the United States.
Ironically, the strain is dubbed Aussie flu, where it originated.
It has touched New Zealand previously, but has missed Canterbury, meaning people here will be less resistant to it this winter.
The Canterbury District Health Board and Canterbury Primary Response Group have formed a task force to plan ahead.
Said co-ordinator Dr Phil Schroeder: “Canterbury could be in the firing line this year more so than other parts of New Zealand. Though its entirely speculative at this stage, we just have to be prepared.”
Last year, the flu affected more than 230,000 Australians, killing 73, before it spread to the Northern Hemisphere.
About 150 people have died in the United States and United Kingdom respectively from the virus.
Dr Schroeder said Cantabrians and the elderly were most vulnerable to the strain. There were suspected cases in the North Island last year, but it had never reached the South Island.
The task force was preparing by monitoring trends overseas and in New Zealand, as well as encouraging flu vaccination, and that people go to their GP before hospital.
Flu centres would be ready if there was a pandemic.
“But we are only hoping to do that if absolutely necessary,” he said.
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton said it was “very concerned”.
“I don’t want to sound dramatic but this could be an absolute killer. Especially for young and our older people . . . it’s important every year, but more so this year.”
Dr Schroeder said the flu vaccine was the most important way to prevent a potential outbreak. This year’s vaccination was updated to include Aussie flu.
“The first flu wave won’t arrive until June, so as long as people have the vaccine two weeks before. Most flu waves come in July and August.”
Vaccination is $35 from a GP and free for people over 65 or pregnant women.
In a bid to increase vaccination uptake Canterbury District Health Board chief executive David Meates said: “We have decided to create a Canterbury-specific campaign to aid cut through rather than relying on the national immunisation collateral.”
This includes developing a specialised website to be launched next month and approaching organisations like schools and workplaces directly, he said.
CDHB general manager for older persons health, orthopaedics and rehabilitation Dan Coward said the ward would have 20 additional beds for winter.
“The key messages are that people should get immunised as their best protection against flu,” he said.