A late season bloom of influenza has seen Whangārei Hospital bosses put a cordon around surgical ward patients who have become ill.

Six patients on one ward and as many staff have been affected by the A-strain influenza, with cases showing up in other parts of the hospital as well during the week. Yesterday was the first day no new cases were reported.

Northland District Health is still asking visitors who have symptoms or have been in contact with flu cases not to come in to see patients.

The patients who have come down with the flu have been grouped together to help contain the spread. The antiviral vaccine Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is being used as both a treatment and preventative on the ward to prevent further infection, clinical microbiologist David Hammer said.


A response team was ready to go into action but has since been stood down as the spread seems to be under control, Hammer said.

''We are, however, also seeing community influenza cases around other parts of the hospital. Several patients have been admitted with community-acquired flu complications over the past two or three weeks.''

The usual symptoms apply, including fever, cough, muscle aches and viral malaise. Hammer reiterated key messages which included anyone who felt unwell not visiting patients, people who had not had a flu vaccination to have one, and practising good hand hygiene.

While the hospital's emergency department had been very busy over winter, fewer than usual flu cases had presented for treatment.

The later than usual flu season impacted on already overloaded emergency departments (EDs) in Auckland in recent weeks, where staff pleaded with people to stay away unless they were in genuine need of emergency care.

The message there was also see the family doctor first, and it is not too late for a flu jab. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection.

The Ministry of Health weekly ''influenza intelligence'' reported that flu and other respiratory virus activity was ''unseasonably low'' over winter and admissions for severe acute respiratory illnesses, mainly due to non-flu viruses, were also low but had now started to increase — late in the season.