Big jump in suspected swine flu cases

By Jacqueline Smith, Martin Johnston

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The number of people with suspected swine flu in New Zealand jumped late last night to 96.

Official reports earlier in the day had put the number at 35.

They included five international travellers who landed in Auckland yesterday.

They were treated and are being kept in isolation at a secret location.

Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Fran McGrath said the rise in numbers reflected the increased effort being made to detect cases.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said those on the "suspected case" list included people who had returned from Mexico or the US within the past week and had developed flu-like symptoms.

They had been tested for influenza A, and if the tests were positive they would then be tested for swine flu.

One of the suspected cases was a person who returned from the United States on Wednesday last week.

Previously, the first cases had been thought to have arrived during the weekend.

Two hotels near Auckland Airport that were asked to take the five international travellers, who have mild flu-like symptoms, told the Herald they refused because of the risk to staff and other guests.

The clinical director of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, Dr Julia Peters, said the five arrived yesterday morning - the fifth day of New Zealand's swine flu outbreak - on a Qantas flight.

Dr Peters said test samples were taken and the five were treated at Middlemore Hospital before being taken to isolation accommodation.

She did not know where they were being kept.

"They must have identified themselves as having symptoms and were assessed by our medical team."

Health authorities asked Centra Auckland Airport Hotel and Hotel Grand Chancellor Auckland Airport about taking the five patients.

The Centra's general manager, Geoff Haigh, said he could not put people with suspected swine flu in the same facilities as other guests.

Grand Chancellor general manager Brett Stuart also said housing the suspected cases at his hotel would be inappropriate.

The number of confirmed cases was last night reduced from 14 to 13.

They include 12 from the Rangitoto College group that returned on Saturday from Mexico, via Los Angeles. The other is a person who was on the same Air NZ flight as the college group.

In Mexico, health authorities say the virus is thought to have killed 159 people and infected more than 2000.

But the World Health Organisation said early yesterday that the death toll of confirmed cases was seven - all in Mexico, where it said there had been 26 confirmed human cases.

That number increased to eight late last night when the US Centres for Disease Control said a 23-month-old child in Texas had died - the first reported fatality outside Mexico.

The US government has also reported 91 laboratory confirmed human cases.

The WHO said Austria had confirmed one case of swine flu, Canada 13, Germany three, Israel two, Spain four and the UK five.

FLU FACTS

Annual figures for the various forms of influenza in NZ put the swine-flu alert in perspective:

* 47,700 estimated number who caught influenza between May and September last year.
* 42 per cent had the A strains of virus.
* 58 per cent had the B strains.
* 100 deaths a year are caused directly by flu.
* The number of flu cases and the A/B split vary greatly each year. Last year's flu season was considered moderate.

- additional reporting: AP

- NZ Herald

Anyone who has travelled to Mexico or North America in the last seven days should contact Healthline (0800 611 116) for information. They should seek medical advice if they are displaying flu-like symptoms. Click here for the Ministry of Health’s influenza website.

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