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Friday, May 22, 2009

Tokyo health centers swamped by callers


Staff writer

Worried callers are swamping phone lines at health centers near the school and homes of two Tokyo-area high school students confirmed to have swine flu.

News photo
Playing it safe: Commuters wear masks as they make their way through JR Mizonokuchi Station in Kawasaki on Thursday. KYODO PHOTO

This is the first time, apart from four cases at Narita airport earlier this month, that the new H1N1 virus has been found in residents in the Tokyo area.

In Hachioji, Tokyo, where one of the teens lives, the city health center was getting nearly triple the normal number of calls. It received 440 calls by Thursday afternoon, whereas the usual daily count is around 150.

"Immediately after the news broke Wednesday night, callers wanted to know which school she attended, where she lived and which hospital she had been taken to," a spokesman for the city's health and welfare division said. "We could understand their concerns, but we had the student's privacy to think about so we couldn't divulge that information."

He added that during Thursday, as more information about the student started to be reported in the media, callers rang in to report they felt ill and may have caught the virus.

"But none of them had a recent history of overseas travel, and virtually none had been to the Kansai region (where most of the H1N1 cases have been found), so we just advised them to go to designated fever clinics at hospitals," he said.

Residents in Kawasaki, where the students' school is situated, have also been swamping local fever consultation centers with calls.

"Since yesterday evening to this morning, there were 250 calls made to fever consultation centers in the city, compared with 150 on previous days," said a spokesman for the city's health department. "I imagine some of the callers had seen the news in the morning, and rang in saying they have a fever, or that their fever won't go down."

Similar panicked calls have been made to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's fever consultation center, which received a large number of inquiries immediately after the news of the two students was announced, according to a spokeswoman for the capital's infectious diseases control division.

"The majority of phone calls are about concerns that they have a fever," she said.

The metropolitan government said the capital's fever consultation centers received a total of 4,749 calls Thursday, exceeding the 4,500 a day it had received since the number of detected cases swelled in the Kansai region over the weekend.

According to the metropolitan government, six students and three teachers from three other schools in Tokyo were at the same United Nations event that the two students with the flu had attended from May 11 to Monday.

"They did not have contact with the two students during the conference, and all are reported to be in good health," said Hideo Maeda, a counselor at the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health.

Nevertheless, the metropolitan government requested that the nine students and teachers, who are all from private high schools in the Tokyo area, refrain from going to school for the time being.

According to Maeda, out of the 70 passengers who were on the Continental Airlines flight to Narita on Tuesday with the two students, 11 are considered to have been in heavy contact with them, eight of whom are non-Japanese citizens.

"Public health centers have reached all but one by telephone, and they appear to be in good health," he said.



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