Hawke's Bay businesses are protecting their staff from a "really nasty illness" by offering free flu vaccinations for workers.
The 2013 national influenza immunisation campaign was launched this week with a goal of immunising 20 per cent more people than last year.
Last year 37,884 vaccinations were administered in Hawke's Bay but officials hope to boost the number of jabs ahead of winter.
Influenza, can be a serious illness and is sometimes fatal. While a person's general health affects the severity of infection, the virus is contagious and anyone can become infected.
Napier-based Work In Health 2007, which provides immunisations to businesses, is bracing for a busy flu season.
Occupational health nurse Mary Carter said the company administered over 1000 immunisations to local workers in 2012.
"It's a really nasty illness."
Businesses benefited from offering the free vaccinations to staff as they reduced absenteeism during flu season, she said.
"It's a very nice staff incentive - it sends out a message saying 'we care about our workers'."
Workplaces were volatile environments for spreading germs. The more people there were, the more likely it was that someone could become sick.
Businesses that dealt directly with the public were even more at risk, Ms Carter said.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said the goal this year was to vaccinate 1.2 million people.
"Around 400 New Zealanders die, directly or indirectly, each year from influenza," he said. "Last year the disease put more than a thousand people in hospital and nearly 50,000 people visited their GP with influenza-like illness."
Last year over one million New Zealanders had a flu vaccination - about 23 per cent of the population.
Wellingtonian Mark McIlroy is encouraging people to get immunised after the death of his wife Catherine.
The 49-year-old woman was fit and healthy before being struck down by the influenza virus last July. She died within five days of showing symptoms.
Although some influenza symptoms are the same as a bad cold, the virus is usually much more severe.
Symptoms include a cough, headache, fever or chills, body aches and pains, fatigue and generally feeling miserable.
Immunisation is free for adults and children with long-term health conditions, pregnant women and people aged 65 and older.
The virus can infect up to one in five people annually and spreads from person to person through breathing, coughing and sneezing.
The 2013 Southern Hemisphere influenza vaccine includes two new strains based on recommendations from the World Health Organisation.
It takes about two weeks to develop immunity once vaccinated.
Vaccines are available from general practices, accident and medical centres, workplace occupational health service vaccinators and some pharmacies.
STOP THE SPREAD OF INFLUENZA
- If you are unwell, stay at home until you are better.
- Wash your hands regularly or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Don't share drinks.
- Avoid crowded places