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Influenza season ongoing in the South with “extensive” cases

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Dr. Susan Jack, Medical Officer of Southern DHB.Photo / Peter McIntosh, File

The flu pandemic for the first time in years has hit at least one Dunedin Middle School, recording daily absenteeism reaching triple digits.

Dr. Susan Jack, a medical officer at the Southern District Health Commission, fears that the case boom may only be the beginning of a southern outbreak a few years after the flu is relatively low.

Jack said he was concerned about the potential impact of the disease on the community as Covid-19’s restrictions were relaxed due to the absence of influenza cases in the last two years.

“In New Zealand, Covid’s intervention hasn’t been infected with the flu for the past two years. Now the borders are open and the flu has recurred. That is, people are not immune.”

Over the past two weeks, 120 influenza cases have been detected throughout the district.

Only those who were hospitalized for respiratory problems were tested for the disease, so this number is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, she said.

“So just having those numbers shows that it’s widespread in the community.”

The best preventive measure against the flu outbreak was a high rate of vaccination, she said.

“I spent two years without the flu epidemic this year, so I have no innate immunity and I need to significantly promote vaccination.”

Andrew King, acting president of Otago Boys’ High School, said the school experienced “well more than 100” absenteeism this Monday, many of whom were believed to be suffering from the flu infection.

The school population had stomach bugs and was also affected by the continued impact of the community’s Covid-19 infection.

Most of the absenteeism was due to the flu, as the infection began to develop late last week.

Boarders at the school hostel were also affected, and the school’s policy was to send sick boarders home to recover.

King couldn’t confirm the exact number of boarders affected, but said it would easily be double digits.

The school’s sports were also affected over the weekend as the 1st and 3rd XV matches were canceled because the school was unable to form a team due to illness.

Southland Boys High School was visiting the school today for interschool sports. Both schools pay attention to the signs of infection to keep the sport safe.

It was not uncommon for schools to be heavily affected by the flu each year, but it has not occurred in the last two years after Covid’s blockade and restrictions cut off contact for the spread of infectious diseases.

King said the spread of the infection seems to be predominantly out of school.

Covid-19 precautions, such as wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, and opening windows for ventilation, were still being implemented in schools to help limit the spread of influenza.

“The effect of going to the orange traffic light makes the kids more sociable outside of school, and obviously opening up the sport in a bigger way, I think, is probably a big factor.”

Jack said that Maori and Pacifica people over the age of 55, and all other adults over the age of 65, have free flu, as well as people with underlying illnesses, pregnant women, and children hospitalized for respiratory illness. He said he was eligible to receive a jab.

Others could still pay to get the widely available flu shots from GPs and pharmacies.

A common misconception was that a Covid-19 test would be positive and a stand-down period would be required before being vaccinated against the flu. That wasn’t the case, Jack said.

“Get the flu shot as soon as you recover. You can get a Covid booster or vaccination at the same time as the flu vaccine.”

Other preventive measures for respiratory illness will be very well known to people in the last few years.

Hand washing, physical distance, and staying at home in case of illness all helped prevent the spread of both Covid-19 and the flu, as if wearing a mask.

“I know it’s not mandatory to set up an orange traffic light, but in the winter months, wear a mask. It’s still in circulation at a high level in our district. Not only because it protects you from Covid, but because it protects you … [but also] influenza. “

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