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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Flu infiltrates Tokyo as patient tally leaps to 267


By REIJI YOSHIDA and ERIC JOHNSTON
Staff writers

Two female high school students who live in Hachioji, western Tokyo, and Kawasaki were confirmed Wednesday as having H1N1 swine flu — the first people in the Tokyo area to catch the contagion.

News photo
Fashionable protection: A woman wears a mask decorated with a butterfly Wednesday in Kobe, the focal point of the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. KYODO PHOTO

The 16-year-old girls, whose names are being withheld, attend the same high school in Kawasaki, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said.

The two, who were sharing a room at a New York hotel from May 11 to 18 to attend a mock session of the United Nations, returned to Narita airport at 1:55 p.m. on Tuesday via Continental Airlines but have not yet returned to school.

Tokyo officials did not name the school, but Kyodo News reported that it was Senzoku Gakuen High School.

The cases are expected to send greater Tokyo, which includes Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures, scrambling to prepare for an epidemic, although the metro government decided late Tuesday it was not yet necessary to close any schools.

No one in Japan has died from swine flu and its effects are said to be mild in most cases.

The Tokyo students bring the total number of confirmed cases to 267 in Japan, including the four initially found during the quarantine inspections the government wants to eliminate at Narita airport.

The remaining 261 are in Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga prefectures, where thousands of schools have been shut down to contain the bug.

The girl in Hachioji was hospitalized in Tokyo and her symptoms are stable, metro officials said.

Although she developed a fever during the flight, she tested negative for the flu at Narita airport, metro government officials said.

As of Wednesday, Japan had the fourth-largest number of H1N1 patients in the world after the United States, Canada, and Mexico, where the vast majority of deaths occurred.

Teenagers and those predisposed to disease appear to be the most vulnerable to H1N1. More than 4,000 schools in the Kinki region will remain closed until next week.

The lone patient in Shiga, a 23-year-old student at Ritsumeikan University's Biwako-Kusatsu campus and a resident of Otsu, was confirmed Wednesday morning to have contracted the virus during a visit to Kobe last weekend. Shiga officials said he was given Tamiflu and is at home recovering.

Shiga Prefecture immediately announced measures to limit the virus' spread, beginning with the closure of 53 prefectural high schools between Thursday and Tuesday. Although the Shiga patient is an adult, the decision was made to close the schools because, as of Wednesday morning, the infection had hit mostly students, and schools in Hyogo and Osaka were closed, Shiga officials said.

Ritsumeikan's Biwako-Kusatsu campus closed Wednesday afternoon and won't reopen until May 26, a university spokeswoman said. Some 17,000 students attend the campus.

Other steps Shiga will take include closing day care centers in six cities and canceling prefecture-sponsored events.

"This strain of influenza is similar to seasonal influenza, and the Tamiflu medicine can be effective. But people should wear masks and wash their hands carefully, call fever hotlines before going to the hospital, and avoid unnecessary travel," said Shiga Prefecture Gov. Yukiko Kada.

Despite the increase in cases and the first outbreak in Shiga Prefecture, officials in Osaka and Hyogo are concerned about possible public apathy.

While people in Hyogo and Kobe remain vigilant and are wearing masks, fewer masked people were seen early Wednesday afternoon in and around the Umeda, Yodobashi, and Honmachi business districts of Osaka, and on city subway lines, than the day before.

The spread of the virus has affected Kansai businesses in areas were outbreaks were reported, but some that closed down are reopening.

A number of kiosks and shops in and around Sannomiya Station in Kobe closed earlier this week, including a JR kiosk where a female employee in her 50s fell ill.



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