Rapid Rise in Flu; Hospitals in New Zealand Struggle

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People enter a pharmacy next to a sign promoting flu shots in New York January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People enter a pharmacy next to a sign promoting flu shots in New York January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Hospitals in Auckland had to postpone elective surgeries to meet the growing needs of beds in hospitals as people taking to bed with severe flu or influenza is on the rise.

The North Shore Hospital in New Zealand is showing the first signs of the onset of winter, accompanied by the very contagious flu virus. Dr Dale Bramley, Waitemata DHB chief executive, said that the number of patients being admitted in Auckland's North Shore and Waitakere Hospitals are increasing each day, causing a great challenge for doctors and hospital staff.

"Medical admissions are up by around 20 per cent on the same two weeks last year and we have regularly found ourselves operating at 100 per cent capacity," said Bramley. Stating that acute cases have to be given more priority, Bramley added, "Unfortunately, we have had to postpone a small number of scheduled elective procedures to ensure we have enough beds for acute patients."

According to Associate Professor Lance Jennings, a leading virus expert, the flu that has started in a mild manner is likely to worsen. Jennings, who uses the Google flu tracker to understand how influenza is spreading, said, "The Google flu tracker suggests nationally we have got activity approaching one of the higher seasons." However, he added, "It's tracking up but not as high as suggested by Google. What they're tracking is people who are interested in influenza." According to Jennings, "it's still a mild season right now." The Google produces flu activity estimates for New Zealand and 20 other countries daily, based on rates of Internet searches linked to flu or influenza.

The elderly and others who are at a higher risk of complications arising from flu have been extended free influenza vaccinations by the New Zealand Government until Aug 31, expecting a delayed flu season.

According to Jennings, while H3N2 was the main influenza in 2012, this year, it is the dominant H1N1 influenza virus that is doing the rounds. While H3N2 was more severe in the elderly, the H1N1 influenza virus can be extremely severe in young adults. Few patients inflicted with flu in Geraldine, Hawke's Bay and Otago required hospitalisation and intensive care as well.

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