When politicians declare they are going to ‘roll up their sleeves’ there’s normally not too much to see. However, when the Minister of Health, Dr. David Clark recently did just that, in order to receive his flu injection, it was a display designed to raise awareness of the need for health professionals to get immunised ahead of this winter’s influenza season. All district health boards (DHBs) offer free influenza immunisation to their employees, and this year the Ministry of Health has a goal of immunising 80% of frontline health care staff. Of course, health care professionals, by virtue of their occupation, are at increased risk of contracting influenza and of transmitting the infection to susceptible patients. As winter inches ever closer, the need to protect yourself, your colleagues and patients from influenza should be your number one consideration.
This winter perhaps more than ever.
Because, while the last two New Zealand flu seasons have been relatively mild, overseas trends in the USA, UK and Australia suggest that this year, health impacts may be more severe. While there is no way to predict either how ‘bad’ a flu season may be or how effective each seasonal flu vaccine will be, several factors point to the possibility that this year’s winter flu will hit hard.
One indicator is the fact that the northern hemisphere is emerging from a deadly influenza season; the United Kingdom reported three times as many flu-related deaths as the year previous, while the United States of America experienced the worst flu outbreak there in nearly a decade. According to the Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the virus most impacting health in the US was the A(H3N2) strain - also the dominant strain in the preceding Australian season.
There is no denying that the A(H3N2) strain dominated the 2017 Australian winter. It was a devastating flu season there, with over 230,000 people affected and 750 deaths reported before the strain travelled from Australia to dominate globally. The A(H3N2) strain has since been dubbed the ‘Aussie Flu’, although, in all likelihood, the strain emerged in or near Hong Kong.
It’s good news then that the updated 2018 seasonal flu vaccine for Kiwis now includes protection against the A (H3N2) strain. This year’s vaccine has been boosted to become a quadrivalent designed to protect against the four most prevalent viruses; the aforementioned A(H3N2), as well as A(H1N1) and two B viruses. As health professionals know, flu vaccines are most effective when they match the strains circulating in a community and when increased numbers within a community choose to vaccinate.
So, if you haven’t already, it really is time for you to roll up your sleeves and get vaccinated.
This year the flu vaccine is free to people over 65 years old, under 65’s with specified medical conditions, such as respiratory illness or diabetes (the full list of conditions is provided here), pregnant women and children four or under with respiratory illness. The University of Auckland has an excellent resource for health professionals in their Immunity Advisory Centre website which contains a raft of clinical data, statistics and relevant information on influenza immunisation.
More generally, information on influenza may be found online through the Ministry of Health or through the Influenza Hotline - 0800 IMMUNE or 0800 466 863
If you would like to talk further about immunisation in New Zealand, GP or locum medical jobs in New Zealand, our Ochre Recruitment consultants would love to hear from you. As well as being able to discuss GP demands more fully, with a wealth of experience behind them, they are also able to tailor locum doctor jobs to your specific needs. Give them a call today!