Schoolchildren sent home as Europe flu cases jump

1st May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Across Europe, concern over the swine flu is growing as many countries are announcing new suspected cases and confirming old ones.

London -- A 12-year-old British girl diagnosed with swine flu was in quarantine Thursday as the virus took a deeper hold on Europe and the World Health Organisation warned a pandemic was "imminent."

The girl -- whose schoolmates were all sent home and given anti-viral drugs -- was among three new cases in Britain, while Spain's confirmed cases jumped to 10, including its first in a person who has not recently visited Mexico.

Switzerland became the fifth European country early Thursday to confirm the presence of the virus, after a male patient who was given the all-clear following a trip to Mexico subsequently tested positive.

On Wednesday, Germany announced three cases, while Austria said a 28-year-old woman had tested positive. Suspected infections were also being monitored in about 10 other countries across the continent.

The WHO raised its flu alert late Wednesday to phase five out of six, signalling that a pandemic was "imminent".

In Spain the number of cases went from two to 10 within hours -- with particular concern over the first case not directly linked to Mexico, where the global scare started.

"Until now, every person who has been affected had recently visited Mexico, except one... in Catalonia, who is the first confirmed case of this type in Spain, who has been indirectly infected," said Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez.

In Britain the number of confirmed cases rose to five, as authorities prepared to deliver leaflets about the potentially deadly virus to every household.

Anti-viral medicine was given to some 230 pupils at a school in Paignton in Devon, southwest England, after a 12-year-old schoolgirl became the youngest confirmed victim here of the flu outbreak.

"The little girl involved is doing fine," said Health Secretary Alan Johnson, adding that the two other new cases are a 41-year-old woman from Redditch, central England, and a 22-year-old man from London.

The girl had been on the same flight back from Mexico as newlyweds Iain and Dawn Askham, who were Britain's first confirmed victims. They are being treated in a Scottish hospital.

Another newly-married couple were quarantined after feeling unwell after their return from a dream honeymoon in the Mexican resort of Cancun.

"We were feeling great on holiday," Pete Marshall, who has been ordered to stay at home with his wife Jenny, told the Daily Record newspaper.

"My wife felt ill when we got back with a kind of sickness bug and with the news this weekend, I started to get a bit worried."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament that checks were being increased at British airports and other borders, while several million face masks were being ordered for health service workers.

German authorities said on Wednesday that three cases of swine flu have been confirmed -- a 22-year-old woman was in a Hamburg hospital and a 37-year-old woman and a man in his thirties were in separate hospitals in Bavaria.

Meanwhile, health officials in France said two travellers had been hospitalised with flu symptoms and 30 others were under observation, while Italy said it was probing 20 suspected cases.

French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said Paris was to ask the European Union to ban flights to Mexico, though EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has said she sees no need for travel restrictions.

Mexico and the United States are so far the only nations with confirmed swine flu deaths, with nine in total.

Alice Ritchie/AFP/Expatica

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