Take extra care those of you heading back to the northern hemisphere for pre-Christmas/Christmas visits from NZ. You know who you are.

Northern flu season threat to New Zealand
By KERRY WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 27/10/2009

Health officials are bracing for a jump in swine flu cases as the northern hemisphere moves into its flu season.

Britain, the United States and Canada have all seen an upsurge in H1N1 cases in recent weeks, with fears it could lead to major disruptions in schools, workplaces and hospitals if the flu season takes hold.

In Canada, church leaders are recommending parishioners stop shaking hands, with some telling people to opt for a "fist-bump" instead.

A report last week in the US showed that swine flu was spreading from school-aged children to the rest of the population, while in Canada – which has begun a mass vaccination programme – cases were on the rise.

In New Zealand, there have been 19 confirmed swine flu deaths but the pandemic has now weakened. The Health Ministry reported this week that there is now nobody in hospital with swine flu or its complications. However, health officials expect that to change as the northern hemisphere moves into winter.

"With the northern hemisphere starting to see big increases in the pandemic strain, I think we are going to get bumps," Mark Jacobs, director of public health, said.

"It is very likely we are going to get another wave of infection at some point, but we don't know exactly when that's going to happen."

A recent outbreak among Japanese students in Christchurch highlighted the fact that swine flu had not disappeared entirely, despite the reduction in cases.

"I think the most likely timing of a second wave of infection is going to be the beginning of next flu season, but there's no guarantee it won't happen before then," he said.

Dr Jacobs said New Zealand and Australia's experience with the flu strain this year had been closely examined by medical officials in North America, particularly the public health response and the impact it had on healthcare.

New Zealand recorded its first cases almost exactly six months ago, when students from Auckland's Rangitoto College arrived back from a trip to Mexico on Anzac Day. At its peak, one in four intensive care beds in some hospitals were taken up by swine flu victims.

"They have been very interested in our experience and the experience of Australia in particular. We've been sharing a lot of information with the World Health Organisation about what has been happening here," he said.

"They've certainly got a bit less uncertainty. The northern hemisphere now knows a lot more about the virus largely because of our experience here and in Australia."

New Zealand is unlikely to issue the swine flu vaccine publicly until autumn.

From here.