The new H1N1 influenza has spread rapidly mainly among high school students, their family members and teachers in Hyogo and Osaka prefectures. On Saturday, the first eight cases were confirmed. By Sunday, the number of confirmed cases topped 80, and on Wednesday it climbed to at least 238.

The flu has forced the temporary closure of more than 4,000 schools and kindergartens in the two prefectures. It is imperative that the central and local governments work to prevent the flu from spreading to other regions.

At first, the nation’s effort to prevent the intrusion of the flu at ports of entry appeared to have worked, but the virus has somehow managed to slip through. No one in the first group of confirmed cases had even been abroad. They appear to have contracted the virus through sports events in which teams from various high schools participated. The pathogenic power of the new flu virus is not very strong, but it is highly infectious. Young people also appear to lack immunity to the virus, making schools into hotbeds for the new flu.

The fact that only a small number of people abroad aged 60 or over have fallen victim to H1N1 suggests that those who have suffered from pandemic flu in the past have gained some immunity to this strain. Fortunately, the antiviral drugs being used in Japan to lessen the symptoms of patients are working. The central and local governments should now work out ways to effectively treat patients by making rational use of Japan’s limited human and other resources.

They will also need the cooperation from enterprises and other organizations in local communities in implementing flu-containment measures. These include canceling large gatherings and events, washing hands regularly, using masks at workplaces and preventing people with flu symptoms from coming to work. Although some think that the flu may disappear as the hot and humid summer starts in Japan, the central and local governments cannot afford to lower their guard as there is still a possibility of the flu virus mutating into a virulent pathogen.

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