Deadly influenza strain back with a vengeance

Last updated 05:00 08/07/2014

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Flu is on the rise with the cooling weather, leaving hospitals struggling to cope with a surge in patients.

The influenza strain behind the 2009 "swine flu" pandemic that killed 19 people in New Zealand - A(H1N1) - appears to be back with a vengeance, accounting for most of the flu cases reported this year.

Dr Lance Jennings, of the National Influenza Specialist Group, said dozens of people had ended up in intensive care after contracting the H1N1 strain this year, including several in Wellington and Hawke's Bay.

One Canterbury patient had died. "It is really coming back to haunt us."

The strain was most likely to hit children, young adults and the healthy, he said.

The number of flu cases had risen strongly as winter set in, with 95 unconfirmed cases reported in the last week of June.

The rates were higher than this time last winter but were still below the usual winter peaks. Flu rates were highest in the mid-central North Island, Hawke's Bay, East Coast and Canterbury.

Rates were still lower than average in the Wellington region.

Jennings said people could still get their flu jabs till the end of the month and it was free for many at- risk groups, such as people over 65, children and pregnant women.

Many people eligible for free flu jabs had still not taken up the offer this season.

"That still leaves many vulnerable people unprotected and this is a concern as we head into flu season," he said.

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