Three Japanese males who arrived at Narita airport from Canada via the United States on Friday were confirmed to be infected with the new H1N1 strain of influenza, marking the first cases of so-called swine flu in Japan, the health ministry said Saturday.
The three — a high school teacher in his 40s and two teenage students from Osaka — had been in Oakville, Ontario, on a school trip since April 24. They returned via Detroit on a Northwest Airlines flight that landed at about 4:30 p.m.
The three, who had fevers and coughs, tested positive for influenza A during the onboard quarantine inspection and were taken to Japanese Red Cross Narita Hospital in Chiba Prefecture and isolated.
A group of 49 other passengers seated nearby are quarantined in a hotel for 10 days.
The teacher had a fever as high as 38.6 degrees and the students had temperatures of 36.6 and 37.1. Further tests by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed they were infected with H1N1.
“They are the first patients within Japanese territory confirmed as being infected with the disease,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said at a hastily called news conference.
“The conditions of the three patients have remained stable,” an official at the hospital told reporters. “As we are taking every possible measure, I hope people feel secure.”
Masuzoe said one of the students slipped through the onboard inspection as he had no flu symptoms initially. But after exiting the aircraft, he was questioned by airport officials during transit and said he felt sick.
Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials said there is a possibility up to 11 people who were seated near the student and may also be infected dodged isolation and left after passing through immigration.
It also said another 13 passengers who are potential carriers had already left for Thailand, Taiwan and elsewhere.
The ministry will report the development to the World Health Organization as Japan’s first cases of H1N1 flu amid growing concerns the disease may spread.
Prime Minister Taro Aso said in a statement that efforts to block the flu are continuing.
Since the three cases “were detected during the quarantine at the airport, we do not consider it as indicating the domestic emergence of the disease,” Aso said, adding that the government “will proceed with preparations for a domestic emergence.”
The flight had 409 passengers and crew members. Of those, 49 people, including 33 who were traveling with the three patients, were put up at a nearby hotel for 10 days of monitoring, Masuzoe said.
Seven of the 49 later developed symptoms and were transferred to three hospitals in the prefecture for further testing, but all tested negative for the new strain.
The rest will be asked to get followup checks, he said.
“I hope people in Japan will stay calm,” he said.
Later in the day, the ministry said four Americans who were sitting close to the students and were therefore obliged to stay in Narita for monitoring apparently left instead. They were later located in Kyoto and tested negative for the new strain.
Kyoto officials said they were part of a group of 14 — 13 Americans and a Japanese. All were rechecked for the flu but no abnormalities were found, they said.
Japan is the latest nation in Asia to confirm the presence of swine flu, following Hong Kong and South Korea.
Several people returning from abroad during the Golden Week holidays have tested positive for influenza A but negative for the new strain.
The latest involved a woman in her 30s from Kawasaki. After returning from Washington D.C. on Sunday, she tested positive for type-A flu in the preliminary test but was judged negative for the new strain Saturday night, the ministry said.
Earlier, a 6-year-old Japanese boy living in Chicago became the first Japanese national confirmed to have caught the new flu.
With the confirmation of the three cases at Narita, the number of Japanese patients confirmed to have the new type of influenza stands at four.
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