So, looks like our four week vacation in the US is now turning into a five week vacation. What fun… what fun…
Deborah Smith Science Editor May 25, 2009
CHILDREN who travel to countries where swine flu is widespread will be banned from attending school in NSW for a week after their return to Australia.
The State Government said the new precautionary measure, announced yesterday, was necessary to try to slow the spread of the virus until a vaccine is developed.
The move will force parents to rethink travel plans for the July school holidays, with the ban expected to last until August, the earliest a vaccine is likely to become available.
The countries of concern are Mexico, the United States, Canada, Japan and Panama, but this is likely to change as the virus spreads, with Britain and Spain among European countries with more than 100 confirmed cases.
The NSW Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, said the Department of Education would help to implement the restriction for all primary and high school students.
"The period of exclusion is for seven days following international travel to a country of concern. This allows time for the infection to appear if the school student has acquired illness," Dr Chant said.
The move follows the Federal Government's raising of the pandemic alert from the "delay" to the "contain" phase on Friday, which could lead to other "social distancing" measures such as cancellation of sporting events and concerts.
Dr Chant said the exclusion policy would help NSW schools avoid having to close down for a period if a student contracted swine flu, as has happened in Victoria and South Australia.
She said a co-operative approach with parents was preferred, but "NSW Health has appropriate powers to protect the health of the public if necessary".
The H1N1 swine flu virus has only caused mild symptoms in people in Australia, but scientists have warned it could mutate into a more dangerous strain.
As the national toll of people confirmed to be infected rose to 17, other states including Western Australia urged parents to keep their school children at home for a week on return from the listed countries.
In South Australia, the recommendation extends to young children attending pre-schools and child-care centres.
Victoria has experienced the majority of swine flu cases with two more people diagnosed yesterday taking their state toll to 11, while NSW has only two confirmed cases.
One of the Victorians was a 15-year-old boy whose school in Melbourne's north will be closed for a week, the second school in the state to shut. Two schools in Adelaide have also been closed for a week, after a 15-year-girl was diagnosed last Thursday.
The federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said yesterday that the situation was serious."What it's shown is that it is a very infectious disease," Ms Roxon told the Nine Network.
She said another "worrying" development was that in several cases the source of the infection could not be identified. The patients had not travelled or been in contact with travellers or other known infected people.
Raina MacIntyre, the Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at the University of NSW, said schools are "hot zones" for the transmission of flu because children excrete the virus for longer due to their under-developed immune systems.
They can be infectious for five to seven days, compared with about three days for adults.
Professor MacIntyre said children under 18 also had no immunity to the virus, unlike some people over 65.
The earliest a matched vaccine would be available was August and any measure that might slow the virus's spread until then was "well worth it", she said. "We are buying time until we have a vaccine available."
School exclusion would cause difficulties for some families. "But unfortunately it is a trade-off between the greater good of society and individual inconvenience," she said.
* School ban applies to: US, Canada, Japan, Mexico and Panama.
* Britain and Spain have a high number of cases.
* 43 countries have officially reported 12,022 cases of H1N1 swine flu, including 86 deaths.
* Australia has 17 confirmed cases: two in NSW, 11 in Victoria, two in South Australia and two in Queensland.
* NSW has 20 suspected cases.