The 2009 swine flu pandemic cost New Zealand hospitals about $31 million, a university study shows.
But Wellington-based University of Otago researchers reported the true cost of the H1N1 pandemic to the health system would be even higher as their study looked only at hospitals, and not primary care and public health services.
Other costs to society included reduced productivity at work and missed time at school through illness.
"The 2009 pandemic killed 49 people, sent 1122 people to hospital and 102 were so sick that they needed intensive care unit [ICU] treatment," the study said.
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"Eighteen per cent of the population had evidence of infection."
The study, recently published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, found the average cost for a person hospitalised for the infection was $17,000 and $97,000 per person in intensive care.
In future pandemics hospital services "could be overwhelmed and so the death rate could shoot up with people dying at home", said the study's lead author, Associate Professor Nick Wilson.
The costs of the infection showed the value of further work on prevention such as vaccination, and investment in pandemic planning and other control measures.
There was a lack of studies on pandemic vaccine uptake and the effectiveness of health protection messages in media campaigns, the study found.A
$31m cost to hospitals
1122 people in hospital
102 needed ICU treatment
49 people killed