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Japan gets virus: 3 cases found

Japanese authorities scrambled yesterday to track travelers who arrived on the same flight as three people who were diagnosed with the country's first confirmed cases of swine flu.

Australia also joined the ranks of affected countries with its first confirmed case.

Authorities in Tokyo quarantined a high school teacher and two teenage students who returned on a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit on Friday from a school trip to Canada after they tested positive at the airport.

In the Canadian province of Alberta, the chief medical officer on Friday confirmed the death of a woman infected with the H1N1 virus.

The woman, who was in her 30s and had other health problems, died on April 28.

Officials said she had not left the country recently but could not confirm whether she was in contact with anyone who had recently returned from Mexico where swine flu has hit hardest.

Dr Andre Corriveau, Alberta's chief health officer, said 300 people who attended the woman's wake were being monitored for signs of the illness.

Mexican authorities said yesterday the number of confirmed swine flu cases in their country had risen by 259 to 1,578, with the number of death jumping by three to 48.

Health Department spokesman Carlos Olmos said all of the newly confirmed deaths occurred prior to May 6.

Japan's national laboratory confirmed the virus in the teacher and two students.

The Health and Welfare Ministry said at least 13 people - believed to be separate from the reported 11 that the ministry was still investigating - had gone on to other destinations in transit from that flight and efforts were under way to contact them through the World Health Organization.

Japanese Health and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe acknowledged it would be difficult to trace all those who came into contact with the three infected Japanese, who visited Ontario on a home-stay program with about 30 other students.

The three were isolated and recovering at a hospital near Narita International Airport.

"There are limitations to what we can do, but we will continue to monitor the situation and strengthen or relax such measures as needed," he said.

NHK TV urged people who were aboard the flight to call a special telephone number for consultations.

So far, 49 have been traced and will be monitored for 10 days, officials said.

Meanwhile, Australia reported its first case yesterday in a woman it said was no longer infectious.

She first noticed her symptoms while traveling in the US, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said.

New Zealand - the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to confirm cases - reported two more yesterday for a total of seven. The two high school students returned last month from a school trip to Mexico.

Six of the country's cases were in students and a teacher on that trip; the seventh traveled on the same plane as the group, officials said.

In Mexico, grade schools are scheduled to re-open tomorrow but officials in the western state of Jalisco said they would continue the school shutdown through to May 18 because three people died there recently of flu-like illnesses.

The World Health Organization has said, based on past outbreaks, it is possible that a third of the world's population, or about 2 billion people, could become infected if this outbreak turns into a two-year pandemic.

Independent experts agreed it was possible but pointed out that many would not show any symptoms.

A report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said America's two swine flu deaths - a toddler and a pregnant woman who both died in Texas - each suffered from several other illnesses when they were infected with the virus.


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