17 Jun 2009

Swine flu cases continue to rise

6:24 am on 17 June 2009

The number of cases of swine flu in New Zealand rose to 109 on Tuesday, with 23 new cases of the H1N1 virus confirmed in the previous 24 hours. The Canterbury region reported its first case that cannot be traced to an overseas traveller.

The Ministry of Health said 13 of the new cases were in Canterbury, seven in Auckland and three in Wellington. There were another 21 probable cases.

The Ministry is increasing the capacity of Healthline to field enquiries about swine flu, with almost twice as many calls as usual being made to the telephone helpline. It says Healthline answered about 1,500 calls on Monday.

The Deputy Director of Public Health, Fran McGrath, says callers can phone the helpline (0800 611 116) to find out more about swine flu or talk to a nurse about symptoms.

Dr McGrath says despite the increasing numbers, there are still relatively few cases and only isolated instances of the virus being transmitted in the community.

Regional developments

Health officials in Canterbury say nearly all of the region's 39 cases of swine flu can be traced back to a member of the Samoan community. The woman at the centre of the outbreak returned from Melbourne early this month.

However, the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Alistair Humphrey, says one person in Canterbury has contracted the disease from no known contact.

In Auckland, health officials are restricting the use of Tamiflu to those showing signs of sickness. Previously, everyone in the region who was suspected to have been in contact with a case of swine flu received the drug.

The clinical director of Auckland Regional Public Health, Julia Peters, says the new strategy reflects the high number of institutions now thought to be at risk.

Tamiflu supplies

Over-the-counter stocks of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu are running low in some New Zealand pharmacies, as people rush to protect themselves from swine flu. Tamiflu is available on prescription and can also be sold by pharmacists to people who have flu-like symptoms.

Pharmacy stocks of Tamiflu are additional to the stockpile held by the Government, which is enough to treat about 30% of the population of 4 million.

The makers of the drug say although there has been a massive increase in demand, further supplies are on the way.

The sales and marketing director for Roche in New Zealand, Stuart Knight, says an order for 10,000 packs of the anti-viral drug is due to arrive in the country on Wednesday and another order of 20,000 packs will arrive on Friday.

Mr Knight says demand for Tamiflu appears to be coming from people who are not unwell, but want to have it on hand or for travel.

Factory sends staff home

A Christchurch seafood factory sent all its staff home on Tuesday after two employees showed signs of having swine flu.

Canterbury public health officials began speaking to employees at Sea Products after a 40-year-old female staff member was confirmed to have the virus on Monday. She is the mother of a child from Tino e Tasi pre-school, who was also confirmed to have the virus.

Sea Products general manager Mark Skevington says 90 workers have been sent home for three days in line with Ministry of Health guidelines.

School closures

Three schools and two early childhood centres have closed as swine flu spreads through the community. Students at three Christchurch and four Auckland schools have come down with the virus.

The Ministry of Education said on Tuesday that at least three other schools have cases of the virus, but are remaining open.

Bromley School is out of action for a week, along with Auckland schools St Patrick's in Panmure and Ranui School in West Auckland. Two early childhood centres in Auckland and Christchurch have also shut their doors.

The ministry says other schools with cases of swine flu have instituted partial closures, with hundreds of students told to stay at home.

The School Trustees Association is sending out new information about the advice parents should be receiving from schools, particularly with school holidays less than three weeks away.

It says some schools are telling students that if they go overseas during the holidays, they should stay away from school for a week when they return to New Zealand.

The Principals Council says many schools are thinking about how they would manage the logistics of an outbreak.