It’s not necessarily well known that New Zealand’s cool temperate weather makes our population more at risk from the influenza virus.
If you haven’t taken the time to get your flu vaccination, understanding how the New Zealand climate increases our influenza risk may provide some encouragement, Waitaha Primary Health Medical Officer Dr Martin Gardner says.
“While cold weather won’t directly make you sick, it can lower your body’s immunity, but there is an additional scientific factor that shows the ability of the influenza virus to protect itself in cooler temperatures.”
“The membrane, or coat, on the virus allows it to survive temperatures from just above freezing to up to 21 degrees Celsius. This makes it easier for the virus to travel from person-to-person. Once the virus enters the respiratory tract, the higher body temperature melts the gel coat, exposing the person to the effects of the virus.”
“It’s important not to delay in getting the flu vaccination as winter sets in,” Martin says. “It’s really easy to put it off when you lead a busy life but it only takes about 20-30 minutes of your day.”
“That’s time well spent if you consider that hundreds of New Zealanders each year die from the flu or are sick for a long time.”
“People are often surprised at how ill the flu virus makes them. Some end up unable to work for weeks or are hospitalised, so it’s worth thinking about the potential impact on your family and your working life.”
Martin recommends people ask friends and whānau if they’ve had their flu shot and to help spread the word in the community and online.
Help stop the spread – Around 80% of people infected with the influenza virus may show no symptoms but may be spreading it. The best protection is to get the flu shot.
It’s particularly important that people, who are most vulnerable to influenza and its symptoms, are vaccinated. These key groups are also funded to receive free flu shots:
- Pregnant women (any trimester)
- People aged 65 years and older
- People aged under 65 years with one of a number of eligible medical conditions (see www.influenza.org.nz/eligibility-criteria)
- Children aged four years or under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness
If you’d like to learn more about the flu, visit www.flufree.co.nz