TWO men have died in Morisset Hospital from what health authorities suspect is a strain of the flu.
The men, aged in their 60s, were residents of Kanangra, in the grounds of the hospital.
A woman aged in her 40s is also believed to have succumbed to the flu, in the Stockton Centre.
The deaths have prompted quarantine restrictions to be put in place in both facilities.
Fifty-one residents of ageing, disability and home care facilities in the Hunter are being treated for the flu and staff have adopted strict infection control practices, Disability Services Minister Andrew Constance said this week.
Mr Constance expressed his condolences to the affected families and friends and said the agency was working closely with the Ministry of Health to minimise further illness.
He said all residents of the centres had been vaccinated against the flu earlier this year.
A stringent infection control regime is in place at both centres which are home to about 450 people.
"Fourteen people who had symptoms - seven at each site - have now recovered and the affected residents have been isolated," Mr Constance said.
"Cleanliness and hygiene procedures at both centres have been intensified and staff are wearing protective equipment."
While every precaution was being taken to reduce the risk of the flu spreading, Mr Constance urged people to be vigilant.
"Anyone who exhibits flu-like symptoms or has concerns should see their doctor," he said.
Hunter New England Health's public health physician David Durrheim said Influenza A, H3N2, was the dominant strand of flu in Australia and posed serious problems because the virus didn't perfectly match the vaccine.
"Whereas with H1N1 the virus was perfectly matched to the vaccine, in this case it's drifted slightly," he said.
"The vaccine still has the potential to protect people from the virus but in some cases it will fail."
He said the strand was highly transmittable and there was a real risk that the illness could spread among the wider community.
MP Greg Piper said the deaths were a great concern to the local elderly and disabled population.
"I'm pleased to see they're taking precautions to avoid full-scale outbreak and are protecting staff," he said.
"I think the important thing to remember is that this is a rare event. There is nothing about the facility that indicates it was prone to this sort of thing."