MANILA, Philippines - Health authorities are stumped about how the A(H1N1) virus arrived in a poor, rural community in Nueva Ecija where at least 11 elementary school students have already tested positive for the virus. There is a "missing link," according to a health official.
Nueva Ecija provincial health officer Dr. Benjamin Lopez has reported that none of the students had traveled abroad recently.
However, the affected town of Jaen recently hosted a foreign medical mission, according to Mayor Santiago Austria. He did not identify the foreigners or their country of origin.
“Noong June 4, tumawag ‘yung principal na may mga puro lagnat. Noong kinausap ko naman lahat ng mga batang nilagnat, kayo ba nagpunta (sa medical mission) noong araw na ‘yon. Opo," Austria said. [On June 4, the principal called saying many of her students have fever. When I talked to the concerned students, they said they were present during the medical mission.]
If the virus remains untraced in Jaen, a third-class municipality in Nueva Ecija, it could represent another stage in the spread in the Philippines of swine flu, recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization because of its rapid advance throughout the world.
Jaen would be the first locality where the Department of Health has not tracked down the origin of infection to specific individuals, making it more difficult or even impossible to contain. The DOH's contact tracing program so far has established the route of infection in various schools in Metro Manila, usually to a person who was a recent traveler.
The school in Jaen confirmed its first case of A(H1N1) last Thursday.
After the cases ballooned to 11, forty-four more students with possible A(H1N1) symptoms asked to be tested.
Health workers in Nueva Ecija have been going from house to house since then, giving out Vitamin C and thermometers.
School prevention campaign
At least five schools in Metro Manila have been found to have confirmed cases of A(H1N1).
The Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), however, have decided to push through with the opening of classes on Monday to avoid "dislocation" of educational programs.
“There's no justification anymore to postpone the start of classes," said CHED Chairman Emmanuel Angeles.
As a precaution, Ateneo High School and the University of the Asia and Pacific have decided to push back their opening to June 22.
The DOH on Saturday said that the number of A(H1N1) cases in the country has reached 111.
On Thursday night, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared A(H1N1) a pandemic, but DOH said there is no cause for panic. No fatalities have been recorded, and symptoms are milder than the more common influenza. According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the main danger is if the virus mutates into a much deadlier virus.
» Makati govt unfazed by A(H1N1) threat
» A(H1N1) closes another school in Hong Kong
» Argentina reports 1st swine flu death
» A(H1N1) posters, checkups greet students on first day of classes