Flu season is starting to hit Hawke's Bay with numbers expected to keep rising, health professionals say.



The H3N2 influenza strain, which causes hallucinations and nausea, has already hospitalised some New Zealanders and public health officials are warning the virus is spreading north.



Hawke's Bay District Health Board medical officer of health Caroline McElnay said there were no life-threatening cases in the region yet.



"Hawke's Bay Hospital has no one in its intensive care unit with influenza," she said. "Hawke's Bay Hospital has seen an increase in presentations from patients with flu-like illnesses, coughs, sore throats and temperatures.

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"HBDHB believes we will continue to see a rise in flu-like illnesses as infections increase around the country. So far this year we haven't seen any more presentations than normal."



Local GPs said they were expecting patient numbers to rise next month, as they usually felt the effects of flu season in August and September.



Sandy Ahern from Central Medical in Napier said: "We haven't had any increased activity over the last few weeks. Later on in August and September there might be an added increase. Most people have been good and got their flu vaccine."



Canterbury Health virologist Lance Jennings said the current strain of influenza virus was worse than swine flu.



"H3N2 would be associated with more severe infections than the H1N1 [swine flu]," he said. "Particularly in the elderly and those with ongoing medical problems.



"It has primarily been in Canterbury for the last five weeks but the outbreak is diminishing and it is likely to effect other centres in New Zealand in the coming weeks."



Dr McElnay said it was a timely reminder for people to get vaccinated against the virus, "especially those over 65 or with a chronic illness, for whom the vaccine is free, and this year's vaccine covers the A (H3N2) virus as well as other strains which are circulating".



Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Wananga Whare Tapere o Takitimi school in Hastings yesterday taught children how to "sneeze safe" and stop the spread of winter ills.

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Dr Jennings said the workshop, in conjunction with Kleenex, mitigated influenza and other respiratory virus infections in communities.



The Ministry of Health were closely monitoring flu cases across the country along with surveillance from general practices, Healthline and hospitals.



Flu is believed to have contributed to the deaths of two Mid Canterbury women last week.



If you are concerned about your symptoms, call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for free advice from trained registered nurses.