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Influenza: Don’t get it, don’t give it

1 April 2024

Influenza can be anywhere, and is a highly contagious virus with many different strains. Around one in four New Zealanders are infected with influenza or ‘flu’ each year.

Immunisation is the best protection against influenza. Your flu symptoms are less likely to be severe even if you still catch influenza after immunisation.

Protect yourself and your whānau from flu. Features a person with a disability/whaikaha in a assistive mobility chair in a park. You could still be infected with flu even if you don’t feel sick, and pass it on to others. Reduce the spread of flu if you are sick by:

  • staying away from others including crowded places or events;
  • regular washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds and drying them for 20 seconds or using hand sanitiser; and
  • covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing – into a tissue, clothing or the inside of your elbow. Remember to put tissues in a lined bin.

Having an influenza immunisation every year can keep older people healthy for longer. Older people and those with certain medical conditions are also more likely to be affected by the flu. This is because influenza can make an existing medical condition worse (including asthma and diabetes), or increase the risk of complications such as pneumonia or heart failure – even if you feel healthy.

Having the influenza immunisation during pregnancy helps protect the hapū māma and pēpē/ baby against influenza. You can receive the flu jab at the same time as your FREE whooping cough/ pertussis or COVID-19 booster vaccine.

Stay at home from work, school or preschool if you have the flu so that you don’t spread it to others. Even a mild case of influenza can disrupt your everyday activities with family, friends, community and work.

Influenza is more than just a ‘bad cold’. It is a serious illness that can put anyone in hospital or even kill them, including young and healthy people. Symptoms may vary with age, immune status and health of the individual and can include:

  • fever;
  • sore throat;
  • muscle aches;
  • headache;
  • cough;
  • fatigue; and
  • generally feeling miserable.

The fever and body aches can last for up to 5 days, and the cough and fatigue may last for two or more weeks.

Influenza vaccination is FREE for those who need it most

Getting immunised each year as early as possible before winter hits gives the best protection. This is because it can take up to two weeks for your body to start protecting you, and this protection can last until next flu season.

You need to get the flu vaccine each year as protection from the previous vaccination lessens over time, and the flu strains in the vaccine usually change each year. Over a million New Zealanders get the annual immunisation against influenza.

The influenza vaccine is safe, effective and cannot give you “the flu”. The influenza vaccination will not protect you against COVID-19 and does not increase the risk of being infected with COVID-19 or any other respiratory virus.

You can get your flu vaccine at the same time as your COVID-19 booster dose. There is no need to leave a gap between these jabs – as long as you are feeling well on the day of your flu vaccination.

Most tamariki aged 9 years and over need one vaccination each year to get good protection against flu. Tamariki receiving their flu vaccine for the first time will receive two vaccines given at least 4 weeks apart. The flu shot can be given with other vaccines that you child may need – such as MMR, chickenpox or Meningococcal B.

Book your flu and COVID-19 vaccines now at You can also call 0800 28 29 26 (8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday), or contact your GP, pharmacy or healthcare provider.

A FREE flu vaccine is now available to anyone in the following eligible groups:

  1. People aged 65 years and older;
  2. People aged 6 months and older with underlying health conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and serious asthma;
  3. Pregnant people – at any stage or trimester in the pregnancy;
  4. Children aged 4 years or under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness;
  5. People with significant mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; and
  6. People currently accessing mental health and addiction services.


“Even if you aren’t eligible for a free flu vaccination, it’s definitely worthwhile getting if it means that you will avoid having a miserable time with flu. It could also prevent sickness spreading to whānau and friends, and possibly having to take time off work,” says West Coast Medical Officer of Health Dr Cheryl Brunton. The cost for a flu vaccine is typically $25 to $45.

Common side effects to the influenza vaccination

Having side effects after your flu vaccine is a sign that your body’s immune system is working well.

You might experience:

  • Pain, redness or swelling at the site of the injection in children and adults;
  • Headache, muscle ache or fatigue in adults; and
  • Fever, irritability and loss of appetite in children.

Most side effects should only last for a few days.

Measles overseas prompts warning for New Zealand travellers

24 January 2024

Te Whatu Ora clinicians are advising Kiwis travelling overseas to make sure they are fully immunised against measles, particularly as cases continue to occur in a number of countries including Australia.

Passengers on a flight from Australia were exposed to measles15 people travelling through Australia on a flight two weeks ago were exposed to a measles case before continuing onto New Zealand – creating the potential for cases to develop here.

Te Whatu Ora was able to quickly contact trace the relevant passengers and ensure they went into quarantine while their immunisation status was checked. Thankfully 14 of the contacts immune and the 15th in quarantine as a precaution. None of these contacts have developed measles to date.

National Public Health Service interim clinical lead Dr William Rainger says the incident is “a wake-up call” for Kiwi travellers.

“This is a strong reminder that if people want to avoid the risk of becoming seriously ill while travelling, or while enjoying their overseas holiday, they need to make sure they are fully immunised with two doses of a measles vaccine before they go,” Dr Rainger says.

“Being immunised also protects those around you from becoming seriously ill and from spreading the disease to others, including friends and loved ones, people in your community and fellow travellers.”

There are currently a number of measles cases around the world including in Australia, the United Kingdom, across the Middle East and Asia, and parts of the US.

Key information about measles including signs and symptoms

Dr Rainger says measles is a serious and highly infectious illness, which can affect adults as well as children and babies.

The first symptoms of measles include a fever, cough, runny nose, and sore and watery pink eyes. This is followed by a blotchy rash. The illness spreads very quickly among people who aren’t immune.

Dr Rainger says it can take up to 18 days for symptoms to appear after an exposure, so it’s important for people to stay vigilant if they’ve been exposed.

Please call ahead to your doctor or health provider if you develop measles symptoms. This is to ensure you do not spend time in the waiting room with other patients. You can call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116 – if you cannot call your doctor. Interpreters are available if you need one.”

Get immunised against measles

New Zealand had 13 measles cases last year. Many were connected to unimmunised people travelling to and from countries where there are cases.

“This is why getting immunised against measles is so important – especially before travelling to and from overseas where measles cases are occurring. This could save you and your loved ones from a preventable and very nasty illness that would undoubtedly ruin your travel plans, as well as the plans of other travellers,” says Dr Rainger.

Two measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines are free in New Zealand for anyone 18 years or under, and for people who are eligible for free healthcare. It’s recommended that you get vaccinated if you or anyone in your family has not had an MMR vaccine or aren’t sure. There’s no additional risk in getting an extra dose.

“In New Zealand, the MMR vaccine is given to babies at 12 months and 15 months of age. However, if you’re travelling to a country with an active measles outbreak and your baby is less than 12 months old, talk to your doctor or health provider about whether they can be immunised early for measles before travelling,” says Dr Rainger.

Source: Te Whatu Ora media release (24th January 2024).

New rural after-hours telehealth service available

21 November 2023

A new rural after-hours telehealth service is now available, improving access to primary health care for almost 900,000 New Zealanders.

Rural communities can access the KA Ora Telecare service in two ways – by calling 0800 2 KA ORA (0800 252 672) directly or via referral from their rural healthcare provider.

When people call the service, they are first triaged by nurses and kaiāwhina and can be referred through to a doctor if needed. The service is an extension of the care provided by your usual healthcare provider, and is also available to those who are unenrolled and living in a rural area.

The 0800 service will provide after-hours clinical telehealth care on weekdays (from 5pm to 8am), and 24 hours a day on weekends and public holidays. The service is staffed by kaiāwhina, nurses, GPs and emergency medicine specialists. The service will provide access for people in rural areas whether they are enrolled or unenrolled with a primary care practice.

The service is subsidised by Te Whatu Ora, and a patient co-payment will be charged for consultations with a doctor. Under 14s will remain free, and those on Community Services Card or who are 65 years and over will pay $19.50.

Call 0800 2 KA ORA (0800 252 672) to access the new rural telehealth service.

Source: Te Whatu Ora media release (20th November 2023).

Protect yourself against Legionnaires’ disease

20 September 2023

The warmer months are the perfect time to be out in the garden. It’s also unfortunately the time when gardeners are most at risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease from bags or bulk loads of potting mix and compost.

Gardeners are being urged to take care with potting mix and compost – with 32 cases of the disease already confirmed in the region this year.

Gardeners are being encouraged to gear up against Legionnaires' disease.Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Matt Reid, says Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia.

“It’s caused by the Legionella bacteria that live in moist organic material and people can catch the disease by breathing in airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria.

“Gardeners are at particularly high risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease as the bacteria thrive in potting mix and compost,” says Dr Reid.

In Canterbury there is typically a spike in cases in spring that can be attributed to increased gardening activity and good weather. Now is the time for people to make sure they are taking the necessary steps to avoid catching the disease.

There are some simple actions gardeners should take to avoid getting Legionnaires’ disease:

  1. Always work outside. Find a well-ventilated outdoor area and preferably with light winds.
  2. Wear a well-fitting face mask. An N95 or respirator is best.
  3. Wear gloves when handling potting mix or compost.
  4. Cut – don’t rip. Carefully open bags of compost or potting mix with scissors and away from your face.
  5. Compost dry? Damp it down. This will reduce dust.
  6. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Do this after handling potting mix or compost and before touching your face or removing your mask.

“Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious illness and following these simple steps can be lifesaving,” says Dr Matt Reid.

The illness may be mild but can sometimes be fatal. It is more common in older people, particularly if they smoke, have poor immunity or a chronic illness. However, even healthy young people have died from Legionella pneumonia.

Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease to look out for

Symptoms of the disease can include:

  • dry coughing;
  • high fever;
  • chills;
  • shortness of breath;
  • muscle aches;
  • headaches; and
  • diarrhoea.

Anyone who has these symptoms should see their general practice team immediately for advice, and let them know they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

Page last updated: 24/04/2018

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