With flu disappearing from New Zealand due to COVID-19 restrictions, do we still need the flu jab?

More stringent hygiene and mask-wearing habits haven't just kept COVID-19 out of the community - they've also kept out the flu.

New Zealand's had just three cases of the seasonal flu this year and all in managed isolation.

So is there any point in getting the flu jab?

Winter has well and truly arrived and with it the usual coughs and colds.

Last year's lockdowns and social distancing resulted in no seasonal flu circulating in the community.

"And we still as yet have no flu in New Zealand. But it will come back," says Immunisation Advisory Centre director Professor Nikki Turner.

Our strict borders and changes in hygiene behaviour are credited with keeping out the flu virus.

"And one of the best things we're doing now is when we're sick, we stay at home. So we don't share our viruses around, we don't go to work," says Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.

But there are warnings over a sudden rise in respiratory infections, some which look very much like the flu.

One called RSV has returned in full force since our borders reopened with Australia.

"It causes wheezy respiratory illness in babies, but it affects all age groups. But our paediatric wards reporting a lot of children coming in with RSV illness," Prof Turner says.

Kidz First Children's Hospital paediatrician Dr Adrian Trenholme says it affects infants much more than the flu.

"Largely impacts on Māori and Pasifika kids. RSV is 40 percent of the cause of that. And it ends in hospitalisation, chronic lung disease, and other issues," he says.

But while the old-fashioned flu is absent from our shores, do we still need to get vaccinated?

"Yes I think it's very important that people who are in high-risk groups do get the flu vaccine. That's people 65 years and over, pregnant women, and people with underlying conditions," Prof Baker says.

Getting the jab and keeping up good hygiene measures also helps protect those at-risk groups with the flu's return potentially just a plane ride away