Schools in the Kansai region were shut down in three wards in Kobe and in the nearby city of Ashiya after a local high school student became the first of a spate of nine domestic cases of H1N1 swine flu.
The student, who has been hospitalized, is a 17-year-old male from prefecture-run Kobe High School who has never been overseas, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.
Two other students from the school, a male and a female, also tested positive later in the day, along with five more people from a different high school in Kobe, and a high school student from Osaka Prefecture, the ministry said.
The findings kicked off a raft of new measures to contain the virus, including the school closures, which will last until Friday.
“We have entered a new phase (in tackling the new flu),” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said in a meeting with senior government officials.
“We need to take appropriate measures to prevent the disease from spreading by examining the patient’s activities and finding those who had close contact with him,” he said.
In response, the government upgraded its four-stage flu action program from “overseas outbreak” to the second stage — “early period of domestic outbreak.” If cases continue to crop up, it will go to the third stage, which has three levels: “spreading further,” “widespread,” and “recovering.” The fourth stage is “outbreak in remission.”
The domestic cases came a week after the nation’s first four flu cases — a group of Japanese students and a teacher — who were detected with H1N1 influenza A during quarantine inspections at Narita International Airport on May 8. The four arrived via the United States after staying in Canada.
Health minister Yoichi Masuzoe said the government “will detect through aggressive epidemiological study those who had close contact with the patient to hospitalize them or to urge them to refrain from going out.”
Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a statement that the government is ready to take measures to prevent the new flu from spreading beyond Hyogo Prefecture.
“I hope people in Japan remain vigilant while staying calm,” the statement said.
The Kobe high school student was sent early Saturday to a local hospital that handles infectious disease patients. After exhibiting cold symptoms Monday morning, he developed a fever of 37.4 degrees on Tuesday and visited a clinic, where he tested positive for influenza A.
When his specimen was examined on Friday by a municipal lab, it tested positive for the new flu, which is a subtype of influenza A.
The teen’s doctor asked the lab to test the specimen for a seasonal flu, rather than the new flu, because he had no history of overseas travel, the city said.
The student took a leave of absence from school Tuesday. As of Friday, he was coughing but his fever had dropped below 37. No health problems have been observed in his family, which also has no history of going overseas.
The other male, 16, had a fever Friday and left school early with a temperature of 39.7. A preliminary test showed Saturday that he had influenza A.
The third student, a 16-year-old female, had a fever of 38 Tuesday night and tested positive for influenza A in a preliminary test. She was almost back to normal as of Saturday.
More than 8,450 people in 38 countries and regions have been confirmed infected with the new flu as of noon Saturday, with 73 deaths reported in four countries, the vast majority of them in Mexico.
Given that none of the students had been overseas, the ministry has decided to send an investigator to check where they went and who they may have had contact with.
The city has decided to close public kindergartens, elementary, junior high and senior high schools for seven days in Higashi-Nada, Nada and Chuo wards, as well as adjacent Ashiya city. The city has also decided to postpone school excursions for the same period.