Tauranga health officials have noticed a spike in influenza cases in the city - with one GP expecting the worst is yet to come.

Two local GPs reported an uptick in flu presentations over the past few weeks after a quiet start to the winter sickness season.

The numbers of influenza tests ordered by doctors at Tauranga Hospital last week (95) were twice as high as the number a month ago (46).

Influenza was confirmed in almost a quarter of tests last week.

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Bay of Plenty District Health Board infectious diseases specialist Dr Kate Grimwade said she was still seeing "relatively small numbers of influenza cases" in comparison with previous seasons.

"But there has been a definite increase in the last two weeks."

Tauranga weekly influenza numbers. Source: Bay of Plenty District Health Board
Tauranga weekly influenza numbers. Source: Bay of Plenty District Health Board

She said the small numbers indicated a better vaccine this year and that good vaccine coverage in the community was "doing its job".

Rates of other bacterial infections like pneumonia and bronchitis had been normal.

Grimwade said the peak of the flu season was normally July-August.

"We would ordinarily be seeing it begin to tail off now."

Dr Luke Bradford, GP at Fifth Avenue Family Practice and co-chairman at the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation, was also hoping the worst was almost over.

"It doesn't seem to have been a bad season and hopefully it stays that way.

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"I figure we've got another two to three weeks and it will fade away."

He said he had not seen flu-related deaths like last year.

"It was a nasty flu last year and it killed a few older people. We didn't get the immunisation right and even people who were immunised got the flu."

This year he had not seen much flu in the over-65 population, crediting strong immunisation uptake in that community.

Dr Bradford said he was seeing maybe two patients a day with flu symptoms.

People with colds, on the other hand, were coming through at a rate of seven or eight a day - 40 or 50 through the whole practice.

"Half the town has got it".

He said there was an unpleasant bug going around that started with a lot of congestion and ended with a dry cough that hung around for ages.

However, Papamoa Pines GP Dr Sy Robertson said he doubted flu season had peaked yet.

"Fingers crossed we may just see a slow increase before a plateau and settle again.

"We have been surprised at how little flu-like illness [we have seen] so far, which may be from good uptake of the immunisation.

"We were expecting a very severe season given what happened in the Northern Hemisphere winter but it just shows how difficult this virus can be to predict - and we are not finished yet."

A deadly flu epidemic swept Europe in January and there were fears it would reach the Bay of Plenty.

How to stop flu spreading

- Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and dry them for 20 seconds – or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Don't share drinks.
- Avoid crowded places.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze – then put the tissue in a lined bin.
- If you are unwell, stay at home until you are better.
- Speak to your GP or pharmacist about getting a flu jab: it's not too late.

- Source: Bay of Plenty District Health Board