The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) has welcomed the Ministry of Health's announcement to extend the period for those eligible for free flu vaccine to August 31.
The extension is in response to a surge in the number of people developing flu symptoms this winter. The flu vaccine is free for those aged over 65, pregnant women, anyone with a chronic illness such as asthma and in Canterbury it is also free for under 18s.
Dr Lance Jennings, CDHB virologist and influenza expert, says the influenza vaccine provides the best protection against flu and those eligible for free vaccination now have longer to take to take advantage of the offer.
"Don't delay, the sooner you are vaccinated the sooner you are protected. Without the vaccine your next best protection is to avoid infected people. This is unrealistic for most of us and made more difficult because an infected person may not even be showing symptoms but may still be contagious."
This year's influenza vaccine contains the three dominant strains in circulation in the southern hemisphere and New Zealand this winter.
Dr Jennings says while no vaccine is ever 100 percent effective, four out of five of all potential cases of influenza will be prevented by this year's influenza vaccine.
"If an immunised person contracts an influenza virus covered in the vaccine, the likelihood of developing serious complications is dramatically reduced because they are partially protected," Dr Jennings says.
It is also possible for people to contract a different strain that isn't included in the vaccine.
During July, 1235 cases in Canterbury have been laboratory tested and 17% have respiratory illnesses caused by viruses other than influenza A or B, Dr Jennings says.
Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, says if people are unwell and do not require hospital care they need to stay home and not spread their illness amongst others.
"It is also important to call your usual General Practice team number if you need medical assistance or advice. Even after hours, a registered nurse will answer your call, no matter what time of night or day."
Dr Humphrey says a phone call to your usual GP team after-hours can save time and you'll receive advice and reassurance about the level of care required. If required, they will arrange or send you to receive appropriate care.
"Calling your GP team is a fast and effective way of getting health advice. It's also the best way to find out more about getting a flu vaccine."
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