Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Influenza - the flavour of the month

And the flavour of the month is apparently pork!

Yes, we actually have swine flu in New Zealand. No, there's no reason to panic.
It's no worse that any of the other batches of Influenza A & B that do the rounds every year.

Until you hear otherwise, just carry on as usual, and be extra vigilant about washing your hands, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough & sneeze, and being considerate of others and not going out when you're sick.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And now for the weather

Just to remind you that the incoming flu season is usually accompanied by crappy weather - here's some crappy weather! We've currently got a severe weather warning for heavy rain for tonight.

Rain becoming heavy from later this afternoon. In the 18 to 21 hours from 3pm today, around 200mm possible on higher slopes of the Tararuas and 80 to 100mm possible about the northern hills of Wellington. Heaviest falls are likely to be overnight with peak intensities of 25mm per hour possible, especially about the Tararuas.

Please be extra careful on the roads - there have been a number of weather-related accidents around the region lately. And if you have a stormwater grate outside your home, you can help avoid having a huge puddle to navigate if you clear the autumn debris from it.

More on influenza A

The numbers that are cropping up in the paper about people infected with influenza A (that may be swine flu) are seemingly quite alarming. But they really do have to be put into context.

Every year, somewhere between 380,000 and 760,000 New Zealanders become infected with one of the many strains of influenza. Many of those cases are varieties of influenza A (strains that originated in animals) - like the Spanish flu-strain, California, New Caledonia, or Brisbane strains.

There is an influenza surveillance summary released by ESR (who are based in Kenepuru) each month. This surveillance gives an indication of the number of cases and distribution of influenza in the community, and identifies the main strains of the virus that are doing the rounds. It's a sample of cases, and not the complete statitisics for the country, and the numbers obviously don't include those who didn't bother going to the doctor. But anyway, in June 2008, 141 cases of influenza were confirmed by testing - 114 of those were strains of influenza A. July 2008 recorded 295 cases of influenza, 155 of which were influenza A strains. Other months show comparable proportions.

There are seasonal surges in people fronting up to their doctors with influenza-like illness, and there are also surges when something triggers concern, such as the threat of a pandemic. Fear lowers the threshhold for going to the doctor. Many kiwis will suffer through what they think is just a cold, but is probably a mild case of influenza, without visiting a doctor. Bring up the threat of a pandemic and people head to the doctor at the drop of a sneezed-in tissue. With the expected proportions of influenza A cases in mind, when you increase the the number of tests performed, you'll increase the number of confirmed cases. Some of the people being tested have said that it just feels like they have a cold, and are effectively only being tested because of circumstances.

Until the cases of influenza A are confirmed as being the actual swine flu, I'm not really going to worry. We're not outside the bounds of statistical normalcy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu

The big headline of the day is obviously swine flu. The outbreak is not currently being treated as a pandemic, but a close watch is being kept.

Regardless of whether it's bird flu, pig flu, or just the standard flu, and even just normal coughs and colds, I cannot stress the need for hand hygiene enough. Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing, and before handling food. Washing with soap and water is actually more effective at removing the infuenza virus from your hands than those hand sanitzers are -

And don't go to school or work if you are sick!

Here are a collection of medial releases from the Ministry of Health

And here's the FAQ on swine flu from the Centre for Disease Control in the US -

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Celebrating 75 years of firefighting in Plimmerton

Plimmerton Volunteer Fire Brigade celebrated 75 years of firefighting in Plimmerton with an Emergency Services Parade of around 25 emergency vehicles through Plimmerton, followed by an open day at Plimmerton School. Fire trucks, tankers, rescue tenders, amublances - St John & Wellington Free Amubulance, rural fire, Salvation Army, Police and Porirua Emergency Management - it was quite an impressive sight to see them all winding their way down the road. Lots of families out enjoying the nice weather, lots of kids to wave to. Once we got to Plimmerton School there were demostrations of the Fire Service's kitchen fire simulator, a motor vehicle extrication, followed by paramedic treatment and winching the patient into a hovering Helipro chopper, then a couple of people from the Wellington Rural Fire Force rappelled out of the helicopter. A good day all round. It was good to see so many people reading the information on the PEMObile!

Pictures from the event can be found here -

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Aotea College Rescue Team

Some good news for a change...

We've embarked on a project with Aotea College and Tai Poutini Polytechnic's Emergency Management Academy of New Zealand (EMANZ), putting a dozen Year 12 &13 students through the process of gaining Orange Cards as NZ USAR (Urban Search And Rescue) Responders - meaning that they'll have the minimum industry standard of competency in responding to structural collapse incidents. Not a dumbed-down kids version, but the same qualification that firefighters have. These qualifications also count towards their NCEA levels - certainly a bit different from studying Shakespeare!

Tuesday kicked off with a day of personal preparedness for emergencies, the basics of the Co-ordinated Incident Management System (CIMS), and mass casualty triage, with a visit from the NZ Police to talk about their role in disasters. We'll be following this up and helping them through their workbooks in the coming weeks. After that will be first aid, USAR awareness and general rescue, interspersed with visits to and by assorted emergency response agencies in the area - Fire Service, Rural Fire, Ambulance, community rescue teams etc.

These students are going to be learning skills that will be invaluable to themselves, their families, and communities, as well as to their prospective employers.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lights out

We know things get a bit chaotic when the power goes out in Wellington during rush hour, but imagine how much worse it would be when the power is cut to over 70,000 homes and business in somewhere as busy as Sydney, Australia, at 5.45pm. That's exactly what happened last Monday. Traffics lights out all over the place and some major routes closed for public safety. Power was only out for two hours, but the aftermath took a lot longer to clear.

And then today, around 12.30pm NZ time (10.30am local time) the power goes out again in Sydney, this time affecting 50,000 homes and businesses.

Italy too

We're not the onlys one's shaking today. Central Italy has been struck by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake at 1.32am local time (1.32pm NZ time). With a focal depth of only 10km, that's going to be felt as a significant quake.

EDIT: The maginitude for the quake has been revised to 5.8 - which is the same size as the quake which caused some damage in Gisborne in December 2007. Thankfully we didn't have to contend with medieval buildings. Yay for building codes!

All shook up

Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty have had a bit of a shake up recently.

Matata kicked it off yesterday with a 3.6 at 5.16pm, and then the Hawkes Bay woke up nice and early this morning with a 4.1 for Napier at 5.47am, and followed up with a 4.2 for Gisborne at 8.51am, and then another less than an hour ago, measuring 4.4.

Here's an image from the Kokohu seismograph at 1.20pm showing the quakes and their aftershocks.