Bay of Plenty schools and hospitals are being hit with a surge in flu cases.

Tauranga and Whakatane hospitals have seen at least 96 patients with suspected influenza respiratory syncytial virus this week.

Some infected people are being treated in the same room as others with the illness and masks are being worn by anyone within three metres of a patient. This is normal process for infectious disease management.

District health board infectious disease specialist Diane Hanfelt-Goade said there has been an early onset to the influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) season, and the Bay of Plenty seemed to have been particularly hard hit.

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"Schools are reporting a high rate of absenteeism due to illness. However, the majority of hospitalized patients are adults with influenza, especially medically fragile adults and pregnant women, and very young children and infants with RSV.

"We would like to remind everyone that vaccination is key in preventing the spread of disease, along with good hand hygiene. We would also like to emphasize the fact that people should not visit others in hospital if they or their child is unwell with a cough or runny nose."

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said the school had been hit particularly hard this week.

Nine staff were away sick on Thursday from the college, which was a significant increase given they usually experienced an absenteeism of three to four.

Mr Randell said it was unusual for teachers to take sick days as it involved a great deal of planning and work.

Mount Maunganui Intermediate also reported a high level of staff sickness.

Principal Lisa Morresey said it was hard finding cover for staff who were absent through illness. The school experienced a big drop in attendance this week, Ms Morresey said.

Arataki School principal Shelley Blakey said there were considerable staff absenteeism this week, and finding relievers was difficult at this time of year.

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Te Puke High School deputy principal David Crone said staff were taking at least five days off to recover before returning to work.

"This has been the case for the past four weeks with the number between three to five staff affected at any one time."

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell.
Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell.

The school experienced a 20 per cent drop in attendance on Thursday alone.

Pillans Point Primary had up to 12 children away from individual classes with the flu at one time.

Principal Matt Simeon said this was significantly higher than usual.

Bethlehem College also reported a rise in absenteeism, with 154 students away due to illness on Thursday.

Regional community services public health nurse Maree Downs said the college was encouraging students to wash their hands before being dismissed in attempt to prevent the flu spreading.

Matapihi School and Mount Maunganui Primary also reported higher than usual levels of absenteeism due to sickness.

One of the Bay's biggest employers, Tauranga City Council, had not noticed a significant increase in staff taking sick days. However, staff were taking days off to look after their sick children, said communications advisor Marcel Currin. Jim Miller, Medical Officer of Health at Toi Te Ora Public Health, said the numbers of flu vaccines this year appeared to be similar to previous years. Dr Miller encouraged people to be in touch with their GP as vaccinations were still free for those at high risk.

"We never know when exactly it is going to start or how big it is going to be."

How to protect yourself against the flu
•Get the influenza vaccination from your nurse or doctor, even if you are fit and healthy
•Cover your cough when coughing or sneezing and then wash your hands
•Always use disposable tissues and stay at home when you are sick
•Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and dry your hands with a clean dry towel or paper towel
•Guidelines from Toi Te Ora Public Health

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