Influenza rates in the region have decreased this year thanks in part to mass immunisation. Photo: File.

Flu rates plummet amid Covid response

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An increased vigilance in personal hygiene in the age of Covid-19 has led to a dramatic reduction in influenza rates this season.

With increased immunisations and improved practices such as wearing masks, the region has been much healthier as a result.

Chief Medical Officer at Nelson Marlborough Health, Dr Nick Baker, says there have been far fewer confirmed cases of influenza in 2020 than in 2019.

“The last two hospital admissions we had for flu were in January.”

In 2019 there were 217 cases of hospital-related flu cases in the Top of the South, compared to only seven this year.

Nick says there have also been less instances of flu and flu-like illnesses in the community.

“GP-based influenza like illness surveillance and testing methods changed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 response. From the more limited amount of testing done, however, there have been no positive influenza results recorded by GPs.”

Nick says the main reasons for this are increased immunisation and public health measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Immunisation started much earlier this year as part of the Government’s response to protect people from contracting both influenza and Covid-19.

“It was also a tactical measure to take the pressure off health services, less flu cases mean we could be better prepared for Covid-19.”

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter reported that, by August 1, there were 1.76 million vaccines distributed nationwide – 800,000 more compared to 2019.

“In the Nelson Marlborough region we also worked hard to increase immunisation uptake – especially for Māori and Pasifika, refugees, people aged 65 and older, people with existing health conditions and children with health conditions and their whānau members.”

Nick says they achieved the highest-ever level of immunisation across these priority groups.

“We also had successful immunisation equity this year, Māori, Pasifika and refugees participated in higher than usual numbers.”

By July 3, more than 60,400 vaccines had been distributed for use in the Nelson Marlborough region.

This compares to 50,108 by the same time in 2019 and 46,699 by the same time in 2018.

The flu virus is similar to the Covid-19 virus in that it spreads on water droplets when people cough or sneeze.

“People’s willingness to do simple things that protect them from catching and spreading Covid-19 has protected them from the flu, colds and other viruses such as gastro bugs.”

Nick says all the thorough hand washing, cleaning of surfaces, covering sneezes and coughs, physical distancing and staying at home when unwell has really paid off.

“Wearing a face mask or face covering also makes a big difference.”