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NZ Authorities Trace Passengers As Global Flu Toll Climbs

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
NZ Authorities Trace Passengers As Global Flu Toll Climbs

Wellington, April 27 NZPA - Authorities will today contact passengers from the same international flight as the Rangitoto College students who are believed to have caught the potentially deadly swine flu while in Mexico.

Clinical director of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, Julia Peters, said the focus over the weekend had been on dealing with the group of 22 students and three teachers who returned on a flight from Los Angeles on Saturday morning.

Ten have tested positive for influenza A, with authorities now awaiting further test results from the World Health Organisation (WHO) laboratory in Melbourne to confirm whether it is actually swine flu.

The students, teachers and their families are now in home quarantine for an unspecified period of time.

A small number of students from Auckland's Northcote College, who also recently returned from Mexico, were understood to be exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

Mexican officials have put the death toll from the new flu strain at 81 and 1300 sick, while cases have been reported in the United States, Canada, Spain, and France.

The Rangitoto College group returned to Auckland from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand flight NZ1, arriving at 5am on Saturday.

The flight carried 364 passengers plus crew.

Ms Peters said while the weekend focus was on managing the sick school students, her staff would now begin following up with other passengers.

"Now that we know that this is an influenza A virus, possibly the swine flu virus, our attention will definitely be turning to all the contact tracing."

Ms Peters said only those students sitting close to the school group would be contacted today.

Ian Hooker, from Greymouth, said he had been sitting near the students but had not been contacted by authorities.

He was a school teacher and, although he felt well, wondered whether he should go to school today.

"Given the proximity of us to them we would have thought that some thought should have been given to quarantining, if not all the people on the aircraft, certainly the proximate people on the aircraft with a view to them not going to work," he told Radio New Zealand.

Ms Peters said the Public Health Service was not notified there were sick students on the flight until midday Saturday -- too late to collect passenger locator cards which would have enabled immediate follow-up.

She said health authorities would have clear advice to other passengers on board NZ1 by late morning. In the meantime, anyone with concerns should contact their doctor.

Hundreds of passengers arriving at Auckland airport from North America this morning were greeted with a questionnaire and a public health warning about swine flu.

New Zealand health authorities last night put the alert status for response to a potential influenza epidemic up from white to yellow, a stand-by phase which is one below the code red response phase.

"So far, touch wood, things to be relatively under control," said Steve Brazier, the Health Ministry's national co-ordinator for emergency planning.

If the situation deteriorated, the ministry would "ramp up" its response, moving into the code red phase.

This would involve far more intensive work at border entry points, ring-fencing outbreaks within New Zealand, and continuing to treat patients with Tamiflu.

The effectiveness of Tamiflu on swine flu was not yet confirmed, but reports from Mexico indicated it was effective.

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