Spike in flu patients at hospitals across New Zealand

It might officially be spring, but in Wellington Regional Hospital's ICU, you could be mistaken for thinking it's deep winter. 

More than half of the unit's 18 beds are taken by people suffering from influenza this week. 

"In the last six weeks, we've had 18 patients with influenza which is more than we had in the whole year before that," Peter Hicks, intensive care clinical leader at Wellington Regional Hospital, told Newshub.  

Infectious disease physician Tim Blackmore says the 10 patients have ranged from children to people in their 60s. 

"If you're a fragile person with a lot of medical problems, it can tip you over from having an average day to a terrible day, because of the added burden to what's going on," Dr Blackmore said.  

The Government's Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) tracks influenza across the country, and has found overall this winter flu activity remains unseasonably low. 

But towards the end of August, ESR noted a nationwide spike in people presenting at GPs and hospitals with flu-like symptoms. 

Dr Blackmore says in Wellington, it appears to have started in children.  

"The season started late, but it's peaked quite dramatically now," he said. 

Dr Hicks said there were concerns the sheer number of influenza admissions would impact the hospital's wider operations. 

"We were very concerned that if the flu patients stayed for five to seven days, as sometimes they do, it would have an effect on our elective surgical capacity - but to date it hasn't," he said. 

Hospitals have noted a high rate of Influenza A this winter. Doctors advise the flu jab is effective against this strain - and it's not too late to get an injection this season.