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Swine Virus Hastens A
Severe Flu Season

By Siobhain Ryan
The Australian
Swine flu has helped bring forward Australia's winter flu season by two or three months, with total influenza figures for May hitting their highest levels for the month this decade.
Australia's swine flu tally yesterday surged past 1200, with Victoria alone contributing 137 new cases.
The rush of new infections is expected to continue today as laboratories return test results after the long weekend.
But the growth in flu cases of all strains began as early as May, statistics from the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance Scheme reveal.
Some 833 people tested positive to influenza A or B viruses last month -- the largest number for May since national reporting of the disease began in 2001.
The caseload was more than three times as big as in April and reached levels not seen in the past seven years before the peak flu months of July and August. A federal Health Department spokeswoman confirmed yesterday the surveillance system was recording cases from the new H1N1 strain, which arrived in Australia on May 9, as well as existing flu viruses.
Microbiologist John Mackenzie, a professorial fellow at Curtin University, said the statistics reflected the start of a "very abnormal" pattern of winter infection.
"We're not really into the influenza season yet, but we've got this new strain of H1N1, and there's not much else around," he said.
"It's not surprising at present that this new one's dominant. It's novel to us, so it's spreading very quickly."
The surveillance scheme only counts laboratory-confirmed diagnoses, with concern over swine flu likely to have boosted testing and diagnosis rates on previous years.
But Victoria's decision last Wednesday to shift away from widespread laboratory testing for swine flu to doctors' diagnoses of clinical symptoms could affect future national reporting.
Victoria last night raised its swine flu tally to 1011, up from 874 on Friday.
But the "new" infections are comparatively old, arising from tests that were performed five or more days ago.
They may be some of the last to be published in daily updates, now that the state has abandoned efforts to contain the virus and sought to limit damage to its tourism industry.
But other states and territories, remain at the pandemic alert phase of "contain" and have continued to report fresh cases.
Queensland yesterday announced its swine flu infections had risen to 53, after five more tests came back positive -- including one from Queensland NRL player Ben Hannant, who played in the first State of Origin series game in Melbourne. NSW's tally jumped by seven to 89, Western Australia's increased by six to 20, and the ACT's by two to 10.
The federal government has predicted that the rest of the country will eventually join Victoria in scaling back its swine flu response, as locally acquired cases multiply.
The different quarantine and testing regimes across the country are adding to the economic costs of the disease, which is yet to claim a life in Australia.
The commonwealth alone is believed to have committed more in the last month to its swine flu response than it has to the rest of its communicable diseases and immunisation programs for all of 2009-10.
Its pledges so far on extra research, anti-virals and vaccine orders to combat swine flu far exceed the $29 million it spent this financial year on free vaccines for the usual seasonal flu, which kills around 2700 Australians a year.
H1N1 Flu Could Hit Half NZ Population 
Health officials are warning that H1N1 flu could potentially infect half of New Zealand's population if a pandemic takes hold.
Young people seem to be most vulnerable, with the latest alert involving a class at Gisborne Boys High School after a 13-year-old just back from Australia was diagnosed with H1N1, or swine flu.
Seventeen students, two teachers and a parent helper have been tested and should get their results on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Health says it's keeping a close eye on Australia which now has over 1200 confirmed cases as the flu spreads rapidly there.
Health authorities are not issuing a travel warning for Australia yet but are urging visitors to take precautions.
In other developments, a dozen New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) staff have been quarantined after a colleague contracted the H1N1 flu.
The employee with the flu worked on level 13 of a central Wellington office building, and was sent home on Friday.
When the diagnosis was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon NZQA quarantined a dozen people from level 13. Other tenants were warned and the building landlords are expected to co-ordinate a response.
The number of confirmed New Zealand cases of H1N1 flu rose to 19 on Tuesday, with two new confirmed cases being reported by Wellington's Regional Public Health overnight.
While numbers of those infected are relatively small, the flu strain is new and people have never been exposed to it, so it is expected to spread quickly.
In its present form, it is unlikely to result in a higher death toll than seasonal flu.
The number of probable cases was 11 on Tuesday, up from 10 on Monday, and there were 161 people in isolation or quarantine and being treated with Tamiflu, up from 92 on Monday.
There is no way of knowing with any certainty the exact number of people who could be infected if a pandemic established in New Zealand, director of public health Dr Mark Jacobs said.
However, the more confirmed cases New Zealand has, the higher the chance that more serious illness and deaths will occur, he said.
While New Zealand appears to have succeeded in keeping H1N1 flu at bay, Jacobs said, as time goes on the virus will become harder and harder to manage.
Employers should pay
Meanwhile, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) says employers should be prepared to take responsibility for the costs of workplace exposure to H1N1 flu after a predicted increase in cases.
EPMU national secretary Andrew Little says quarantine comes with significant costs to workers and those costs should be met by their employers if the exposure was work-related.
"There can be a significant cost to a worker when they are quarantined, ranging from loss of allowances to not being able to work their second job and we believe that cost should be paid by the employer if the quarantine is the result of workplace exposure," Little said.
"We are currently following up on four cases in which EPMU members have been quarantined following workplace exposure and are not being properly compensated for the losses they are incurring as a result."
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