An unseasonally high number of influenza cases has led Southern DHB to reiterate its message to “do what you can to prevent the spread”, says Medical Officer of Health Dr Marion Poore. In the past week, high numbers of people with the illness have reported to Student health, Urgent Doctors and other community facilities. While more than 20 cases have been confirmed through laboratory testing, influenza is not a notifiable disease and most cases are not tested. The strains identified are also circulating in Australia, some Pacific countries and in the northern Hemisphere. “This is an unusual time of year for seasonal influenza so everyone needs to be mindful of how they can prevent the spread of the illness as an important way to limit transmission of infection. “This year’s seasonal vaccine will be available by 1 April and is a good match with the circulating strains, and we encourage people to take up this opportunity once it becomes available.” Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. Symptoms include feeling extremely unwell, a sudden high temperature, headache, general aches and pains, tiredness and a sore throat. Avoid spreading the flu Influenza is very infectious and easily spread to other people especially in the first five days of illness. Influenza viruses can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours. To reduce the risk of spreading flu: • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap • Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze • Bin used tissues as quickly as possible. Stay at home if you’re unwell, and call your GP practice first Do not put patients and colleagues at risk of picking up an infection. Look out for the vaccine The flu vaccine is free for New Zealanders at high risk of complications - pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and people of any age with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including serious asthma), kidney disease and most cancers. For advice about influenza immunisation visit www.fightflu.co.nz For free health advice, call Healthline on 0800 611 116.