7 Jul 2009

Almost 1200 confirmed with swine flu

7:02 pm on 7 July 2009

The number of confirmed cases of swine flu neared 1200 on Tuesday, with 12 cases in intensive care units throughout New Zealand.

There are now 1195 confirmed cases, but the Ministry of Health says the actual number of cases is likely to be significantly higher as only a small proportion of people with symptoms are being tested.

Deputy director of public health Fran McGrath said on Tuesday that 53 people are being treated in hospital for the H1N1 virus.

Those cases include a nine-month-old baby who is in Auckland's Starship Hospital. A spokesperson for Auckland District Health Board says the hospital is not releasing any further information about the case, in accordance with the family's wishes.

Dr McGrath says the number of people visiting GPs with flu symptoms is very high and 2000 people a day are calling the ministry's free 24-hour telephone service Healthline for information.

Extra nurses are being recruited to handle the calls and Dr McGrath says people calling at busy times should be patient. The Healthline number is 0800 611 116.

Meanwhile, the mother of teenager Zachary Wilson, whose death has been linked to swine flu, is urging young people to seek help for symptoms.

Mr Wilson, 19, died at his father's home in Hamilton on 28 June. His mother, who does not wish to be named, has released a statement urging young people to seek advice from a GP or the Healthline, if they need to.

Waikato District Health Board says Mr Wilson's father had remained at home in isolation but tests have shown he does not have swine flu.

GPs cut back non-essential services

Some general practitioners are cutting back on non-essential services to cope with increased numbers of patients worried about swine flu.

The College of General Practitioners says GPs have been extremely busy with patients suffering from flu-like symptoms.

President Jonathan Fox says community-based assessment centres could take the pressure off GPs, and District Health Boards are constantly reviewing the need for them.

The Canterbury DHB is the only board so far to open an assessment centre.

Swine flu less dangerous - researchers

Researchers at the University of Otago say swine flu is less dangerous than first thought.

Associate Professor Michael Baker says researchers have looked at fatality rates from around the world.

He told Nine to Noon says when the virus first emerged, it was estimated it would kill about four in every one thousand people infected.

However, the research has found that swine flu could kill as few as one in every 100,000 people who get it.

Dr Baker says that despite the research, people should not be complacent. He says this could be a mild first wave of the virus, and the fatality rate could change.