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Student tests positive for H1N1 in China

A St. Mary's School student traveling in China has tested positive for the virus that causes swine flu and has been confined to a Beijing hospital despite having no symptoms of the disease, school officials reported Friday.

The positive test also has triggered the quarantine of the rest of the Medford school group of 65 students and seven chaperones, who traveled to China for a three-week language and culture camp sponsored by the Chinese government.

Upon their arrival in Beijing, three students in the group were found to have elevated temperatures, so they and a chaperone were whisked to a hospital, then later lodged in a hotel, St. Mary's Principal Frank Phillips said. School officials declined to release the names of any of the quarantined students.

Lab tests at the hospital and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found the 2009-H1N1 virus in a nasal swab from one girl. She was quarantined at a Beijing hospital, but has no flu symptoms, Phillips said. She has been in phone and e-mail contact with friends, family and school officials.

Chinese health officials then sequestered six additional students who sat near the girl on the flight to China at the hotel, Phillips said.

The other 56 students, who spent their first day in China at Beijing Foreign Language School unable to plunge into their planned tour, were cleared to visit the Great Wall and other sites, but then were sent to the same hotel for a five-day quarantine.

"It's a bummer that they missed touring Beijing," Phillips said Friday afternoon as he prepared to leave St. Mary's for the day and start his "second shift" communicating with the group just waking up to the second day of their quarantine in China. "Now we just have to cross our fingers that all goes well and no one else shows any symptoms."

Phillips said health officials were taking all the students' temperatures twice a day, and if no signs of fever were found, they would be able to travel to Henan province as scheduled to study language, culture and kung fu.

The group has e-mail, text and Internet phone service to stay in touch with family and school officials in Medford, Phillips said.

Some students are upset about missing their planned tours and others are making the most of private rooms, HBO and a pool at the three-star hotel, he said.

Hanban Chinese Language Council International, a Chinese government-sponsored initiative, brought the students to China, so they are a diplomatic priority for the ministries of health and education, Phillips said.

"Everyone has been super solicitous to make sure they are comfortable," he said.

A U.S. State Department warning about potential travel problems caused by China's aggressive quarantine policies noted that some travelers had complained about unsanitary conditions, lack of food and water, and communication problems while in quarantine.

Sam Naumes, whose daughter, Rebecca Naumes, is leading the trip and went with the first students quarantined, said he had been in regular e-mail contact with her.

"They're in a decent hotel now and getting three meals a day," he said. "It's just too bad that they are missing out on the sights."

Phillips noted that while China's strict policies to halt the spread of swine flu have generated international news stories, the disease is causing problems for students' summer activities across the U.S., too.

He said the son of another St. Mary's employee is at a summer arts camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where two students have tested positive for H1N1 flu. The camp's Web site reports that flu symptoms have swept through the campers, forcing as many as eight students a day into isolation until their symptoms subside.

Reach Anita Burke at 776-4485, or aburke@mailtribune.com.