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Human Pandemic events in Hawke's Bay

A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through human populations across a large region.

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What warning will there be?

Pandemics by their nature are unpredictable. While we know there will be another pandemic, we don’t know when. We also won’t know until it happens how severe, or who will be most affected. However public health experts are able to track outbreaks of new strains of flu across the world and so they can prepare vaccines to tackle these.

How do I get prepared?

Ask your doctor to vaccinate you against the flu every year.  Because the influenza virus changes frequently, you need to get vaccinated every year to maintain immunity.

There may be a charge, but vaccination is free for people aged 65 years and over, and adults and children with certain long-term (chronic) conditions. Your General Practitioner (GP) will know if you are eligible for a free vaccination.

What to do when it happens and after?

Flu symptoms include: a high fever, headache, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, cough and sore throat. It may take up to three days to feel symptoms after a person catches the flu (the incubation period). 

Once you have the flu the symptoms can last a week or more, and can be very dangerous for some vulnerable people.

  • The flu spreads quickly through coughs and contact, so if you have the flu, please stay home, avoid public places and close contact with other people. Please stay home from work, as that’s the easiest way to spread the disease.
  • Always cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue. Put the tissue in a rubbish bin and wash and dry your hands well afterwards.
  • Use hand sanitiser regularly.

Learn more about influenza pandemic or visit the Ministry of Health website.


An influenza pandemic has the potential to overwhelm existing health services and significantly affect the functioning of the Hawke’s Bay community. It would cause significant illness and loss of life throughout the area, quickly overwhelming emergency services. For example, it is expected that Hawke’s Bay could experience approximately 59,000 people becoming clinically unwell and up to 298 deaths over a two to three month period in an influenza pandemic.

New Strains

An influenza pandemic occurs when a new strain of influenza virus emerges, spreads around the world and infects many people at once. The new virus will be one people have no natural immunity to, easily spreads from person to person, and is capable of causing severe disease. It is much more serious than a common cold and can leave a person ill for up to 10 days.

There is increasing concern internationally about the impact of new emerging infectious diseases, such as the avian influenza virus and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003. It is certain another influenza pandemic will happen one day.

Impacts on services

Anyone can get the flu – being fit, active and healthy does not protect people from getting this virus. And anyone can die from the flu – it kills at least 100 New Zealanders every year, including some young, fit people.

In a pandemic event, up to a third of the population may be affected and this will have an impact on workplaces, schools, hospitals and many other services. Some workplaces and schools may close. Normal health and other services may not be available for several weeks. People may be asked to care for themselves and others at home.

District Health Board Lead Agency

The Hawke’s Bay District Health Board is the lead agency for managing any outbreak of infectious disease affecting the people of Hawke’s Bay.  The Board can also call on the support of Civil Defence Emergency Management in a widespread event.  If New Zealand were affected by a human pandemic event it is likely a state of national emergency would be considered.

The District Health Board and the Medical Officer of Health’s powers to manage and control these events when they occur are found in the Health Act 1956, the Health (Infectious and Notifiable Diseases) Regulations 1966 and (if passed) the Law Reform (Epidemic Preparedness) Bill 2006.


There have been three influenza pandemics in the last 100 years. The worst was in 1918 following World War I when the Spanish flu was responsible for more deaths than the war had been. Other pandemics were in 1957/58 and in 1968/69.

1918 was the most significant pandemic which swept New Zealand with grim results. Known as the ‘Spanish Flu’ (although the infection did not begin in Spain) it was a world-wide catastrophe. In Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia it was estimated that 720,000,000 were affected, with a death toll of 21,000,000.

In New Zealand in the summer months of 1918–19 the deaths from influenza were in excess of 8,500. A total of 6,413 Europeans died, and Maori fatalities were estimated at over 2,160. In Hawke’s Bay it is estimated that 352 people died, while in Auckland 1,163 died and in Wellington 773 died. The disease spread rapidly in urban areas, and in a matter of months accounted for more lives than those lost from influenza and associated ailments in the preceding 46 years.

People became unwell very quickly, sometimes collapsing within a matter of hours, and even dying the same day. There were no flu vaccinations available and no antibiotics for those who fell ill.

In May 1957 what became known as the Asian flu began in China. It was the first widespread flu pandemic since WW1.  By May 1958 it had spread worldwide. Infection rates were reported to range from 20-70 percent but fatalities were low ranging from 1 in 2000 to 1-10,000 infections.

In New Zealand the pandemic began in Wellington in August 1957. The most at risk were people aged from 10-30 years. A second wave hit in late 1959.

1968 the most recent pandemic occurred in July, known as the Hong Kong flu and again thought to have originated in China, it reached New Zealand in early 1969. Sporadic cases were reported during summer and autumn, and it reached pandemic levels in June and July. This event was milder than 1918, causing around one million deaths worldwide.

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