Influenza kills about 500 New Zealanders a year – In the News

New research from the University of Otago has shown that the flu is a major killer in New Zealand, with Māori, Pasifika and those living in poverty most vulnerable.

The study, published last week in the Journal of Infection, was based on the 15 years from 1994-2008, which meant it didn’t include the last flu pandemic (2009-2010). However, even excluding the last pandemic, the researchers found that influenza kills about 500 New Zealanders each year.

Dr Trang Khieu, whose PhD research the study was part of, said the findings suggested “New Zealand’s biggest single infectious disease killer, accounting for about 1.8 per cent of total deaths in NZ”.

The researchers say their study was the first time any country had investigated flu mortality in relation to ethnicity and social deprivation. They found in the 65-79 age group, Māori were 3.6 times more likely to die of influenza compared to Europeans and other ethnicities and Pasifika were 2.4 times more likely to die.

Those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods (the lowest 20 per cent) were almost twice as likely to die as those in the least deprived areas.

Study co-author Professor Michael Baker said the flu vaccination “is still the best protection we have”.

The study was covered by local media, including:

NZ Herald: Flu killing 500 Kiwis each year, Otago University study says Men, the elderly and those living in poverty most at risk of dying from flu, research shows
Radio NZ: Study uncovers ‘unacceptable’ inequality in risk of premature flu death Older Maori at extreme flu risk