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Fourth swine flu case

Last updated 18:50 01/05/2009

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Another passenger from the flight that sparked New Zealand's swine flu scare has been confirmed to have the virus, bringing the tally of confirmed cases to four.

Director of Public Health Mark Jacobs said this evening that another passenger from Air New Zealand flight NZ1 - which also carried the Rangitoto College pupils diagnosed with swine flu - had been confirmed as having influenza A (H1N1)

The result was confirmed this afternoon by the World Health Organisation lab in Melbourne.

The passenger - who is not from Rangitoto College - is being treated with Tamiflu and is in isolation at home.

As well as the four confirmed cases, New Zealand also has 12 probable cases, 116 suspected cases and 388 people in isolation.

STILL CALLING IT SWINE FLU

The Government today ordered a new flu-fighting drug and boosted its existing vaccine order as the number of suspected swine flu cases in New Zealand continues to climb.

New Zealand health officials do not plan to stop using the term "swine flu" despite the World Health Organisation changing the official name to "influenza A (H1N1)".

The World Health Organisation has officially adopted a new name for the outbreak - referring to the virus as "influenza A (H1N1)" -  to appease beleaguered meat producers.

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Health Minister Tony Ryall said at a press conference this morning that it was important to use a term the public understood.

 "I've got no intention of changing how I'm referring to it."

Dr Jacobs said the Health Ministry would use the term the WHO asked it to in official communications. But he intended to use language recognised and understood by the wider community when he communicated with them.

Meanwhile, a test has confirmed a man who arrived in New Zealand last week - before the Rangitoto College students returned on flight NZ1 - has influenza A.

Julia Peters, of Auckland Regional Public Health, said the man arrived in New Zealand on April 19 on a flight from the United State. He started experiencing symptoms on April 22 but did not see his doctor till Tuesday this week. Officials were in the process of tracing his contacts at work.

Mr Ryall noted that at 5am tomorrow, seven days would have passed since flight NZ1. The ministry's technical advisory group had advised anyone who had been on the flight and had not experienced symptoms did not have swine flu. "They will not have contracted the virus on the plane."

He also said a mother and baby who had been on the list of probable cases had been cleared for swine flu by testing.

NEW DRUG ORDERED

Mr Ryall said this morning that the ministry had ordered 125,000 courses of another anti-viral agent, called Relenza, to be added to the Government's flu-fighting stock file. It is taken as a puffer, rather than a capsule like Tamiflu.

He said the drug had been ordered as a precaution.

The Government had also boosted its seasonal vaccine order by 23 per cent to cater to increased demand.

SCHOOL GROUP ISOLATED

Twenty-seven Hawke's Bay pupils have gone into isolation - scuttling the gala opening of the school's new arts centre because they were all in the orchestra.

Hastings' Lindisfarne College has sent home or isolated 27 boys and four of teachers who had recently returned from North America.

Medical Officer of Health Caroline McElnay said the decision to isolate the Lindisfarne group was a precautionary measure after three of the boys developed symptoms following their return to New Zealand on Tuesday.

Dr McElnay said samples had been taken from the boys, who had flu-like symptoms, since their return to Hawke's Bay, They had been isolated and offered Tamiflu. The other boys and teachers who had no obvious flu symptoms, but had been in contact with the sick boys, were spoken to by public health nurses last night,  offered Tamiflu and quarantined. Some extra samples were also taken last night

College Rector Grant Lander said while he was very disappointed that quarantining the students - who  were all in the school orchestra - had forced the postponement of the gala opening of the school's new auditorium and arts centre.  However, he wanted to be supportive and responsible, he said.

Mr Lander said the postponement was going to affect 300 invited guests, but he hoped they would understand the predicament the school was in.

The school hoped to reschedule the event to May 16.

A small number of boys, who were boarders and unable to go home, would be kept in isolation at the school, however the majority of students affected had gone home, Mr Lander said.

Dr McElnay said that the Public Health Unit expected results from all the samples taken to be available over the next few days.

MP ISOLATED

Meanwhile, Cabinet Minister Nick Smith is confirmed as having influenza A and is in voluntary isolation.

Dr Smith tested positive for influenza A but negative for the H1N1 swine flu virus.

"He had a bit of a fever, he's much better now," the spokesman said.

Dr Smith said he was taking Tamiflu and had stayed "out of circulation for the last two or three days as a precaution".

"I had a wicked fever on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I'm feeling pretty good today," he said.

Dr Smith spent last week in Asia on honeymoon after marrying Linley Newport in a ceremony beside Waimea Estuary on April 18.

SOUTHERN COUNTRIES AT RISK

The World Health Organisation upgraded its pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5 yesterday morning, indicating a pandemic was imminent - but said there was no reason to raise a pandemic flu alert to the highest level as the epidemic remained steady.

The World Health Organisation says it is particularly concerned about the impact of swine flu on the Southern Hemisphere as it enters the flu-prone winter season.

Assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said the swine flu virus had been behaving like a typical influenza virus. As such, it could have a bigger impact on countries that are heading into winter.

In New Zealand, 13 people had tested positive for influenza A by last night, and were considered probable cases.

Nine of them were part of the Rangitoto College group. Another had been on the same April 25 flight NZ1. Two others had been on other flights and a third was a child of one of those passengers.

The number of cases confirmed as swine flu by WHO testing in Melbourne remained at three and at least 121 people were in isolation.

SPECIALIST FLU CENTRES

The Health Ministry announced yesterday that planning was under way to establish a specialist flu-assessment centre.

It would provide space and facilities for those entering the country with flu symptoms to be checked out in isolation.

Director-general of health Stephen McKernan said it would probably be at Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland because it was close to the international airport and had clinical space available.

Assessment centres might eventually be needed in other parts of the country.

In Wellington, Capital and Coast District Health Board spokesman Michael Tull said the board's pandemic planning from the "bird flu era" had identified options for setting up similar facilities.

The board would be investigating those "just in case".

Several areas in the old Wellington Hospital, including wards and offices that had been vacant since the new building opened, could be used.

"For example, the old outpatients area could easily be restored for use as a place to screen patients with flu-like illnesses."

A draft 2005 pandemic planning scheme had identified Somes/Matiu and Kapiti islands as possible quarantine stations. But Mr Tull said the idea "gained no support whatsoever" and there were no plans to quarantine sick people there.

A Wellington Regional Public Health spokesman said most of the 39 Wellington people who had been on flight NZ1 were already out of isolation or due to finish it in the next few days.

They could leave home once 72 hours had passed since they started taking Tamiflu.

Fifteen people in the region were listed as having suspected cases of swine flu last night the second highest number in the country behind Auckland.

Meanwhile, Luis Enrique Franco, of the Mexico Embassy in Wellington, said yesterday the number of WHO-confirmed cases of swine flu in Mexico was only 26 at present, and there had been seven confirmed deaths. The United States had the highest number of confirmed cases, about 40.

"It is also important to remember that worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people per year," he said.

Mexico's drug stockpiles were adequate and another 400,000 doses would be entering the country.

- with agencies and The Press

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