WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand health authorities gave the all-clear Wednesday for a group of students and a teacher to return to school after they were put in isolation following a swine flu scare.
Three students from a secondary school in Auckland were confirmed Tuesday to have swine flu after returning from a three-week trip to Mexico last weekend. Officials said another 10 students and one teacher were likely to have the virus.
All have been in isolation and treated with anti-viral drugs.
“(They) will be able to come out of isolation again,” said Deputy Director of Public Health Fran McGrath.
One mystery is why swine flu has killed up to 159 people in Mexico while cases outside the country have been relatively mild and no one has died. Officials from the World Health Organization say they will not know the answers for a while.
New Zealand health officials said an alert teacher and doctor raised the alarm about a possible swine flu link just hours after the group of 22 students and three teachers landed in Auckland from Los Angeles Saturday.
That resulted in most of the group and their families being tested, isolated and then given treatment even though most who had suffered from the flu had already largely recovered.
The students from Rangitoto College, New Zealand’s biggest secondary school with more than 3,000 pupils and staff, had been in central Mexico around the capital Mexico City for nearly three weeks as part of a Spanish language course.
The first signs of illness appeared in the last week of the trip as the group stayed with host families in Mexico City.
Jaimee Berkahn, 16, said she developed a cough and aching muscles heading into the final week.
“I had a slight fever but I am feeling all right so it isn’t anything to worry about,” she said in a diary entry quoted in the New Zealand Herald Wednesday.
However, the group pressed on with visiting a theme park and movie theater in Mexico City, and by the time they returned to Auckland the illnesses were either over or having little impact.
“Originally it was put down to Mexican food, which seemed like a good guess at the time,” said Rangitoto College Principal David Hodge.
One student and a teacher were briefly hospitalized after they returned but for most the flu-like symptoms were mild.
“We know that different types of common infections like influenza often do have different patterns in different countries, depending on the state of wellbeing of people and depending on how it is happening in that country,” McGrath said.
Seven countries have confirmed cases of the new swine flu and a dozen others have suspected infections.
New Zealand has raised the alert level of its national pandemic plan and is checking all incoming international flights.
This has resulted in 31 people being tested for Influenza A -- the type that includes the swine virus -- and 179 others who might possibly have been exposed in some way being asked to stay isolated.
“What we can be clear on is we are expecting there will be further Influenza A positive cases,” Health Minister Tony Ryall told a news conference.
Editing by Dean Yates