Medical centres in the top of the South Island are expecting an influx of patients this winter as a number of viruses and bacterial infections start doing the rounds.

Nick Baker, chief medical officer for Nelson Marlborough Te Tau Ihu, said Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, and Nelson Hospital were already witnessing an increase in patients as the temperatures dropped.

“Both of our hospitals were very full on Monday [last week],” Baker said.

“Winter is coming, and respiratory viruses are spread more easily, so we are expecting all respiratory viruses to increase over the next eight weeks, including Covid.

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“We’re not expecting a major crisis with Covid, but when you add in the potential for measles, potential for influenza, the potential for whooping cough, all four together actually are a significant issue.”

Baker said the number of Covid cases across the top of the south had plateaued after a significant increase of recorded positive tests in April.

“A few weeks ago it was just creeping up, but now it’s crept down a little bit. So the numbers (new cases per day) are now in the 60s and 70s, but they peaked at around 100,” he said.

Baker it was possible that not every positive test was being recorded by the Ministry of Health, but by measuring the number of hospital admissions, it was possible to gauge what was happening out in the community.

Over the past week, hospitals across the top of the south were seeing about eight to 12 Covid cases a day, Baker said.

The measles can lead to significant cases of pneumonia in young children.

The measles can lead to significant cases of pneumonia in young children.

As of Tuesday, Baker said there had been 70,739 Covid cases reported in the Nelson Marlborough region, with 1184 hospitalisations and 161 deaths, since the first case was recorded in March 2020.

“We had incredibly high levels of (vaccination) coverage for our most vulnerable people, and protecting the vulnerable from disease is really important,” Baker said.

Baker said the elderly and the very young were more prone to respiratory illnesses, with children being particularly susceptible to whooping cough and measles.

Three babies have died so far this year from whooping cough, the latest in April.


Health authorities are concerned Aotearoa New Zealand is at risk from another disease

In May, two cases of measles were detected and forced a school closure in Auckland. Cases of measles can also cause significant pneumonia in young children.

A recently launched State of Child Health report from Cure Kids revealed hospitalisation rates for respiratory conditions in children has continued to increase since 2000.

It halved at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, due to public health measures like border control, physical distancing and hand hygiene, but it remained relatively high for preschool children.

After a partial reopening of the international border in 2022, there was an increase in infections such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and hospitalisations increased to near pre-pandemic levels for under 5-year-olds.

Sue Allen, general manager at Marlborough Primary Health Organisation said the best way to protect children from these preventable but potentially deadly diseases was to immunise them and to make sure the people surrounding them are also immunised.

“Parents, check your Well Child book to find out more about the immunisation schedule and when your tamariki are due. Adults, reach out to your GP or healthcare provider to find out if you are eligible or due for your MMR or Pertussis vaccine and help play a part of protecting our community,” Allen said.

Get the most out of your GP this winter

Book early

GP Graham Loveridge said the days of realising your pills are going to run out, and calling up get an appointment the following day, are gone. Instead, it could take up to two weeks to get an appointment.

People who knew they were going to need an appointment to review medications, or for non-urgent ailments needed to think ahead and book early, particularly if they wanted to see a specific doctor.

Understand what’s urgent

Most practices keep slots open for those who need to be seen urgently, Loveridge said. That was unlikely to include a bad cough or cold for adults, but chest pain, trouble breathing, or new serious pain would always be reasons to get to the doctor that day, along with injuries and infections, he said.

“If this is the situation, you must make that clear to the reception.”

For kids, the threshold to be seen that day was lower, with things like very high temperatures, trouble breathing and being listless all signs you should call up for an urgent appointment.

You may not need to see a doctor

To help manage workflow most GP practices now would triage patients. This would usually involve a nurse or doctor calling you back to determine the best course of action, which “could be face-to-face appointment, phone consultation, arranging some tests prior to an appointment later, or arranging urgent transfer to ED”.

Once triaged, you may not need to see a GP, and could instead be seen by a nurse or nurse practitioner, particularly for management of ongoing conditions, he said.

“Much of the care is now provided by a team.”

Avoid shopping lists

“Don't come with unrealistically long lists of things to deal with in one consultation,” Loveridge said.

“It is not possible to make safe and accurate decisions if several complex issues are presented in one 15-minute consultation.”

Patients needed to bring up the most pressing issue at the start of the appointment, of book a double appointment to ensure all issues could be covered, he said.

Prevention is the best medicine

“The more people can do to stay well and not need to seek care from their GP the better, and vaccination is just a very simple way. If you’re a gambler, you’d roll that dice every time.”

People needed to get vaccinated against flu, Covid, measles, and whooping cough, Loveridge said.

“While not 100% guaranteed, vaccination will significantly reduce your risk of catching these illnesses – and reduce your risk of passing it to other household members.”

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