Auckland hospitals and GPs are starting to see increasing numbers of patients with respiratory infections as winter takes hold and influenza spreads.

The central Auckland health district continued to have the country's highest rate of GP consultations for flu-like illness in the latest weekly report for the Ministry of Health. That was 52 consultations for every 100,000 people, in contrast to a national average of 18 in the week ending June 17.

The Rotorua-Taupo district had the second-highest rate, at 48.5 per 100,000. A national rate of 50 per 100,000 is considered the normal winter "baseline".

Influenza is typically a worse illness than a cold and is characterised by sudden onset, high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches and a cough.


Panmure general practitioner Dr Malcolm Lowe said the number of people he was seeing with flu-like symptoms was about average for winter and had risen in the past fortnight.

Counties Manukau District Health Board spokeswoman Lauren Young said Middlemore Hospital was at 100 per cent capacity yesterday.

The ideal loading is 85 per cent, but Ms Young said being completely full "is normal for us".

"We do have quite a few respiratory medical cases."

Among other hospitals in the region yesterday, Waitakere was at 97 per cent of capacity, North Shore Hospital 95 per cent and Auckland City 93 per cent.

The clinical director of adults emergency medicine at Auckland City Hospital, Dr Tim Parke, said, "The emergency department has been very busy in the past two weeks with the expected spike in seasonal illnesses, particularly heart attacks amongst middle-aged people and severe pneumonia amongst the elderly."

A report on the Counties Manukau and Auckland DHBs' hospitals says they reported 267 cases of severe acute respiratory infections from April 30 to early June. Four people were admitted to an intensive care unit and one died.

The early winter spike in flu-like illness has been driven by increasing numbers of cases of the influenza strain A (H3N2), which can be particularly severe for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

This year's influenza virus covers three strains, including H3N2.