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49 NZers died of swine flu last year

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  • 49 NZers died of swine flu last year

    Almost 50 New Zealanders died during last year's flu pandemic, more than originally estimated, a review says.

    The Pandemic Influenza Mortality and Morbidity Review Group today released its review on the first wave of swine flu, or influenza A (H1N1), in New Zealand last year.

    Group chair, professor Cynthia Farquhar, said 49 people died during last year's pandemic, including one New Zealander who died in the Cook Islands.

    That's 14 more people than originally thought - 35 deaths were reported last year.

    The additional deaths were identified because the group had access to data from other sources, including Births, Death and Marriages, laboratory results and clinical notes.

    The Ministry of Health would update its figures as a result of the group's work, Ms Farquhar said.

    The group, which was set up in November last year, also advised the ministry about diagnostic testing, flu immunisation, prescribing antivirals and people at greater risk of complications.

    "We were able to share our findings with the Ministry of Health prior to the emergence of this year's wave and it's pleasing to see the recommendations have been implemented," she said.

    The ministry has now improved access to antivirals, such as Tamiflu, by making it free of charge on prescription, she said.

    It had also adapted its public information message to reinforce who was at greater risk of complications from the flu.

    Last year 1122 people were admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of H1N1.

    Eighty-six per cent of those who died last year of the H1N1 flu had underlying medical conditions and other risk factors, she said.

    The key public messages remained - those with severe symptoms should seek medical help immediately, anybody at higher risk of complications should have an annual flu jab, and people should seek medical advice as soon as they develop flu symptoms, she said.

    However, it was important to note that some people did not present classic flu-like symptoms, especially those with chronic health problems, she said.

    Last year, 21 flu deaths were investigated by the coroner, 26 men and 23 women died, the median age of a hospitalised flu patient was 26, and almost 75 per cent of deaths occurred in July last year.