The Hawke's Bay fruit picking community has been struck by a vicious flu outbreak leaving two overseas workers hospitalised.

Earlier media reports said managing director of Thornhill Horticultural Contracting Richard Bibby confirmed 31 of his workers had been off work with influenza-like symptoms and that two of them have been hospitalised with confirmed influenza on Friday.

Eighteen of those were still off work today.

A Hawke's Bay DHB spokeswoman said there were 71 cases of people showing symptoms of the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

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The health board was monitoring the situation including whether the workers brought the flu into New Zealand or picked it up here.

She also said that they were looking into whether the flu spread beyond the fruit-picking community and whether the strain was worse than normal.

The sick workers were all from the Pacific Islands and in New Zealand on the Recognised
Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, which allows horticulture and viticulture employers to hire staff from overseas if there are not enough New Zealand workers.

Bibby said the affected workers had all been in New Zealand between a week and 10 days and the assumption was the influenza had been caught on the plane to New Zealand.

There was no risk of those who ate the fruit they had picked all fruit was well washed before sale.

The pickers had been picking peaches and apples.