5 Sep 2016

Low flu season so far - but it may not last

5:48 am on 5 September 2016

New Zealand may be on track for the lowest flu season since the year 2000.

The spread of influenza is not due to settle down until September.

The rate of influenza is low so far this year, but experts are warning the flu may still arrive and hit hard, and if it does it's likely to be this month. Photo: 123RF

But experts also say flu is highly unpredictable, and if it is going to pick up, it will be this month.

Latest data from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, shows the rate of influenza-like illness is about 20 people out of every 100,000.

That is well below the level this time last year, at 124, and below the baseline level of 37 that usually signals the start of the flu season.

The director of the national influenza centre at ESR, Sue Huang, said it was unusual, but flu could be unpredictable.

"If you look at the last two, three weeks actual the proportion of flu positives increased, so that means we've seen a bit more flu viruses around the community.

"So I think we can't just say that this year's flu is ending with a very, very low season yet, but the pattern is quite unusual."

ESR said flu had failed to reach baseline only once in the past 24 years, and that was 16 years ago, in 2000.

But it and other flu experts said it was still possible for flu to peak in September, which happened in 2013.

The head of the Auckland University centre, family doctor and flu expert Nikki Turner, said flu may still arrive.

"It may be that we get a very late flu season, so we continue to watch in case we do see more flu coming over the next month.

"It is possible we could have a very late season."

Reasons for the low season so far, they said, may include the high numbers of people immunised, a well-targetted vaccine, and the mild winter.

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