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Winter flu in Wairarapa adding to health problems

HELEN HOLT

 

 

Health workers are urging people to get vaccinated against the flu, because this year’s strain is expected to hit worse than previous years.

Wairarapa epidemiologist Roger Morris said the strain wasn’t significantly severe, but the general population were not as immune because there hadn’t been a serious flu for more than two years.

“There’s nothing special about the strain.

“We’ve had virtually no flu for two years. Our death rate has gone down while every other country went up because we didn’t have the flu or covid. This year we’re not as immune.”

When asked if the flu was worse than covid, Morris said there was a strong genetic influence on the severity of covid symptoms, and we should still take omicron seriously.

Wairarapa District Health Board general manager of people, capability, and organisational development Sueanne McGlashan said staff absences were between 10 to 15 per cent.

“The flu has come on top of covid, on top of the gastro bug and on top of the RSV [respiratory syncytial virus]. We also have staff who are
looking after dependents.

“Immunity has been impacted by us not having flu for the last two years. We’re encouraging people to get the vaccine.”

She said they relied on staff to be flexible to manage the gaps. The DHB’s highest proportion of staff absences was 18 per cent of staff away at one time in March, during omicron’s peak in Wairarapa.

“It’s always a bit stretched over winter. Each year we do winter planning, to manage the impact of having staff off sick. We look at previous years, and we look with primary care to deliver what our community needs.”

General practitioners also played an important role during winter illnesses.

“We work closely with primary care. They are instrumental in keeping people out of the hospital. It’s important to keep our emergency department for emergencies.”

McGlashan and Morris both agreed that people should have a flu shot and continue wearing masks to get the best protection.

“It’s critically important to get the flu vaccine this year,” Morris said.

He said the flu shots given in previous years would not be effective against this strain.

Morris said mask wearing was an extra barrier against flu.

“We’re much better here than in Australia. Over there, about five per cent of people wear masks, compared to 95 per cent here.

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