The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

N.S. school reports cases of swine flu after Mexican cultural exchange

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WINDSOR, N.S. - Seventeen students were in isolation at a private school in rural Nova Scotia on Sunday after officials confirmed four teenagers at the institution had some of Canada's first cases of swine flu linked to travel in Mexico.

Public health officials said that the students at King's-Edgehill School in Windsor had a mild case of swine flu following a cultural and musical trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico earlier this month.

Joseph Seagram, headmaster of the school in the province's Annapolis Valley, said they have placed the students and two staff members in quarantine at the school's medical facility, while two other staff members were in isolation at home.

Classes at the historic school, which has 350 students in Grades 7-12, are still being held, although all community events and field trips have been cancelled, he said.

"All of the students who have been sick over the last few days are recovering nicely, or have recovered completely," Seagram told a news conference at a local community centre.

The isolated students are between 14 to 17 years old.

In total, 25 students went on the trip from April 1-8, while the school also played host to a group of students and their families from the Yucatan and Campeche as part of the exchange program.

Health authorities said Sunday some students reported fatigue, muscle aches and coughing, but nothing out of the ordinary for people who suffer from the flu.

Mark Kazimirski, the school's physician, said they were compiling a list of people who had been in contact with students who had been sick and expected that the number of people in isolation would grow in the coming days.

Nova Scotia's chief public health officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said all of the students were expected to recover.

"It was acquired in Mexico, brought home and spread," he told a news conference in Halifax.

"We have to keep things in perspective - it is a mild illness."

Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, the Capital Health district's medical health officer, said the students reported "underwhelming" flu symptoms.

"One of the challenges with this illness is that the illness has been so mild that many of the students really can't tell us for certain if they have been sick or how sick," Watson-Creed said.

"Some of them have been reporting that they had sniffles two weeks ago, some of them were reporting that they had allergies two weeks ago. So it's hard to pin down exactly what the number (of sick children) is, but we're working to uncover that."

Bryn Bowen, a King's student who went on the trip, said the group visited monuments, performed at musical events and ate and drank what they liked in Mexico, adding that no one seemed particularly ill either there or back in Canada.

At the sprawling campus set on a hill that overlooked a valley of farmland, there was little sign of anything unusual.

"It's been business as normal," he said. "I was out playing soccer with my friends. It's been a pretty typical normal Sunday at the school."

Strang said a lab in Halifax wasn't able to identify specimens taken from the students.

"That alerted us that this could be something different," he said.

The samples were sent to the national biological laboratory in Winnipeg where they were confirmed as swine flu after Kazimirski first saw the students Monday.

While closing the school is an option, Strang said there are advantages to keeping those people who are sick isolated in one place.

"Perhaps the best place to manage them is to keep them in school and you can monitor them and manage them there," he said.

Strang said with the outbreak in Mexico, cases in Canada were expected given the amount of travel between the two countries.

"It was inevitable that we would see this and it's highly probable that we're going to see more of it occurring across the country," said Strang.

Strang said his department is focusing on slowing down the spread of the cluster of cases at the school in Windsor to the broader community.

"I don't have fear about this, we have something that we need to pay attention to," he said.

- With Michael Tutton in Halifax

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