Canterbury is preparing itself for a double whammy with major illnesses, as flu starts to hit the region along with the measles epidemic.
On Friday, Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said as of March 10, when the data was last collected, there were 18 probable cases in Canterbury.
Those 18 had arrived at the emergency department in Christchurch Hospital with flu-like symptoms over the five weeks before March 10.
He could not say how many of those were confirmed.
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Humphrey said the Canterbury District Health Board and other health organisations were keeping a “watchful eye” on the increase in flu.
“We’re not concerned about it as such, it just lets us know the season is starting.”
Measles was still a priority, he said, as it was more life-threatning.
“But we’re not going to drop the ball on the other stuff.”
A statement on the Ministry of Health website said 2019 was the first year that the vaccine would only be available from April 1.
The change to a fixed start date was to ensure the vaccine remained as effective as possible during the peak flu period, which usually occurs in late winter.
In previous years, the vaccination programme started as soon as the influenza vaccine became available, usually by late March.
But Humphrey said it would not be brought forward as there was “not enough room in the fridges”.
“The first of April was the date chosen, we’ve got to keep both vaccines cold,” he said.
There was no problem with patients being vaccinated for MMR and the flu at the same appointment, Humphrey said.
This decision will be made by their GP, based on how they prefer to run clinics.
A flu vaccination is free for priority groups, such as pregnant women, people over 65 and those with chronic diseases.
Humphrey said many people could be able to receive free flu vaccinations through their employer.