Tauranga has experienced its mildest influenza season since 2012 but an increase of illness from animals in the region has prompted a warning from health authorities.

An Environmental Science and Research report, which tracks the number of people seeking help for influenza throughout New Zealand, shows fewer people needed treatment for flu-like symptoms this year compared to when the report began four years ago.

Toi Te Ora Public Health Organisation chief medical officer of health Dr Phil Shoemack said Tauranga had experienced a mild winter in terms of people suffering from the flu.

Dr Shoemack said he was not able to comment on the severity of people who had suffered from the flu over winter ''but in terms of numbers it has been remarkably mild''.


''It looks as though we can safely say with confidence it's unlikely to go up again [this season]. It looks like it peaked in the third week of August and continued to go down,'' Dr Shoemack said.

Babies under 1 had the highest rates of influenza but the age group with the lowest number of people was senior citizens.

''That will be because that's the group which has the highest coverage in vaccination, with 70 to 75 per cent of people over 65. That's great news.

''Influenza viruses are in a constant state of flux, hence our ongoing concern about complicated new strains turning up as one did in 2009.''

Despite the lack of influenza trouble, Toi Te Ora was concerned about an increase in gastroenteritis-related illness, which was typical of this time of year, Dr Shoemack said.

''We usually see a spike in spring-related illnesses due to calving and new lambs."

Dr Shoemack said most of the illnesses were bacteria-based but parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium were also of concern.

''Largely it has to do with people having contact with farm animals. People living rurally, kids on farms, have higher rates of these infections,'' he said.

''Kids all love cuddling up to animals, understandably. So it's about hand washing which is always difficult for young children but very important. Every year children get hospitalised with these related illnesses. It's related to the new animals on the farms. Not all cases, but that's where we see a peak at this time of year.''

What is the flu?

- The influenza virus infects your nose, throat and lungs. The flu is normally worse than a cold.

- In temperate climates such as New Zealand's, you're more likely to get the flu in winter. Some people get very sick - influenza causes deaths every year.

- Symptoms of influenza come on suddenly and can include fever, chills, muscle aches, runny nose, cough and stomach upsets.

- Older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from influenza, such as pneumonia. If you're at higher risk, it is important to see your doctor early, to find out if you need treatment.

Source: Ministry of Health