By Li Nuer
HARARE, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- At least 135 pupils in eastern Zimbabwe district of Nyanga have in the past week been diagnosed with symptoms of a strain of influenza and authorities fear could be the potentially deadly A/H1N1 flu, The Herald reported on Saturday.
Secretary for Health and Child Welfare Dr Gerald Gwinji was quoted as saying all the children, who displayed symptoms of Influenza Type A, were put on treatment and nasal swab samples had been sent for further testing.
Of the cases, four have been described as serious and the patients are under close supervision at St Melleray Mission Hospital, while the other 131 were discharged after treatment although they would continue to be monitored.
The presence of the virus in the body, experts say, is an indication of the potential contraction of either bird flu or A/H1N1 flu. "Most of the cases presented mild symptoms. They have been treated and discharged, save for only four who are detained at a local health institution," Dr Gwinji said.
He said the samples would be sent to either South Africa or Zambia to determine whether or not A/H1N1 flu or bird flu viruses were present.
"The South African laboratory is now inundated with its own cases as well as samples from other countries in the region, so we are now considering Zambia, whose laboratories are also World Health Organization pre-qualified to run the tests," Dr Gwinji said.
He said the country was in the process of capacitating the government laboratory at the University of Zimbabwe to be able to identify the AH1N1 virus though the process required a lot of financial resources.
He said the source of the potential outbreak could not be easily established. The government, he said, was capacitating private institutions with relevant equipment and drugs for quicker response in the event of an outbreak.
Private health institutions such as Avenues Clinic, St Anne's, West End and South Medical hospitals have all received supplies from the government to assist patients who have signs of the virus.
"We have tried to make available some drugs to pharmacies, but their representatives have not yet provided us with names of outlets convenient for members of the public," Dr Gwinji said.
Asked if there was a possibility that other cases might have slipped government's monitoring, Dr Gwinji said this could have happened because some people could go and get treated at private health institutions.
Commenting on a A/H1N1 flu vaccine currently on trial in Australia and the United States, he said Zimbabwe might have access to the vaccine through assistance from the World Health Organization.
"Although the vaccine is still under trials, some wealthy countries such as Japan have already made pre-payments. When the vaccine is finally approved and made available to countries, obviously they will get first priority. However, WHO usually makes payments for huge quantities, which they donate to affected countries if need be, and that is where we stand to benefit," Dr Gwinji said.
The vaccine has between a 75 and 95 percent chance of protecting people from contracting A/H1N1 flu.