Early spike in flu numbers for Canterbury

Flu and colds are ravaging Canterbury but the worst could be yet to come, health officials warn.

Latest figures released by the Canterbury District Health Board show there were 74 reported cases of the flu last week in Canterbury and 89 the week before.

Last week, more than 41 patients in Christchurch Hospital had the flu.

Health board chief executive
David Meates said we should prepare for what could be a very bad flu season.

“We know it’s bad in Australia, and there’s a high chance that it can come here too,” said Mr Meates.

Canterbury Primary Health Response Group spokesman Phil Schroeder said a spike this early in the season is “relatively uncharacteristic.”

“It is the first time that I have seen a major spike in May for well over 10 years really. We actually had a significant rises of influenza even in our later summer as well as in autumn in Canterbury but it didn’t look like it was amounting to a lot.”

“In part that has caused a few problems for patients in that quite a lot of patients weren’t going to get their flu vaccination until June, anticipating that the flu will arrive in July,” said Dr Schroeder.

In New Zealand, flu-related illnesses cause about 400 deaths a year and account for 45 per cent of sick days each winter.

However, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson said employers are not yet seeing anything over and above business as usual.

“Anecdotally we have seen a few more people coming down with colds and coughs, which is pretty much expected at this time of the year.

“What we have seen more of over the past few years is employers providing and encouraging their team to get flu vaccinations . . . at the end of the day it is in everyone’s best interest to keep well,” she said.

Latest figures from Australia show there have been nearly 59,000 confirmed cases of the flu so far this year, compared to about 14,000 for the same period last year and close to 100 deaths have been recorded so far.

There was a stark warning in the weekend when promising 20-year-old league player Zae Wallace died from an infection caused by the flu on Saturday in Auckland.

He had been in an induced coma in Auckland City Hospital since April and is one of three others around the country who have died from the flu so far this year, including a 12-year-old and a 62-year-old.

So far more than 106,000 people in Canterbury have been vaccinated against the flu, about 19 per cent of the population.

Dr Schroeder said “encouraging” results were coming out of Australian studies to show the current vaccine is proving to be a “very good match” for the strains of flu that are being detected.