TODAY |

Flu hospitalisation numbers drop dramatically in line with lockdown measures this year

There's been a dramatic drop in the number of Kiwis hospitalised with influenza with only 200 people needing hospital treatment nationwide so far this year, compared with more than 6,500 for the whole of 2019.

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More than 6,500 needed hospital treatment for the whole of 2019, compared with 200 people so far this year. Source: 1 NEWS

It has been put down to lockdown, social distancing and better hygiene practises but health experts say it's also contributing to fewer deaths from respiratory illness.

Seven weeks of Covid restrictions, more than a month in lock down, a push to increase vaccination rates and on-going border closures are now credited with saving some of the lives lost every year to flu and respiratory illness.

“Every winter we typically see 1600 excess winter deaths and that winter peak may largely disappear this year because of our new measures to control these infections,” says epidemiologist Michael Baker.

Data obtained by 1 NEWS from all 20 District Health Boards show the same trend.

Northland had just nine flu admissions so far this year compared to 292 for the whole of 2019. Counties Manukau had 86 flu cases in hospital, against last year's tally of 904.

Further south, Canterbury reported 36 flu admissions compared to last year’s 937 and in Dunedin just 13 cases against 405 last year.

“It almost certainly reflects the fact that during the lockdown earlier in the year, which is the time period when usually flu-like viruses were being imported from the northern hemisphere, we weren't importing them,” Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.

Health experts expect flu cases to remain low while borders are closed and people are following Covid hygiene rules. but they expect the rates of flu and other respiratory diseases will start climbing again as restrictions are eased.