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Students from St. Mary's face second quarantine

Students from St. Mary's School on a three-week visit to China have been quarantined for a second time after one of them tested positive for the H1N1 virus.

Frank Phillips, headmaster of the Medford school, said Monday the group of 64 students and seven teachers are at the Luming Hotel in the city of Deng Feng, in Henan province.

They were touring the city of Kaifeng on the Yellow River Saturday when a student who had a low-grade fever was tested for H1N1 and confirmed positive.

That student is now under observation at Henan Provincial Hospital in the city of Zhengzhou.

Two other students with slightly elevated temperatures are under observation at Deng Feng Central Hospital, near the Luming Hotel, and a chaperon is with them, Phillips said.

He said students, parents and chaperones are trying to be philosophical about the interruptions in their plans.

"It's not a tragedy," he said. "It's not like kids dying in a car wreck on graduation night.

"On a rational level, you have to put yourself in China's shoes," he said, noting China's zealous efforts to prevent the spread of H1N1, also known as swine flu. The students are in the most heavily populated province in China, which is home to about 100 million people in an area the size of Iowa.

The St. Mary's students are part of a group of 1,500 young people from the United States and Great Britain who traveled to China under the auspices of the Chinese Ministry of Education to learn Chinese language and culture.

The group was tested for H1N1 and quarantined at a Beijing hotel on July 17 after one student who had been detained at the Beijing Airport upon arrival tested positive for H1N1. All other students tested negative for H1N1 at that time.

During their stay under quarantine at the hotel in Beijing, three students who displayed low-grade fevers were taken to a hospital for testing and observation. One of those students tested positive for the H1N1 virus and was transferred to another hospital for treatment. The other two students who tested negative were returned to the hotel.

Phillips said the entire group, including the two students who had previously tested positive for H1N1, were released from quarantine on July 23. With a clean bill of health from Chinese health officials, the group continued its tour, heading south to Deng Feng.

Kathleen Hildreth, whose daughter Molly is a member of the group, said the latest quarantine could interfere with their scheduled plans to return home on Friday. Hildreth said the students were told the quarantine could last seven days, which would keep them in China past their planned departure date.

"By the time they leave, they'll have spent more time in quarantine than what they were supposed to be doing," Hildreth said.

"When they're out (of quarantine), they're having a wonderful time," she said, "but when they're quarantined, they hate it."

Phillips said the school has requested that all students and chaperons be tested for H1N1 and those who test negative be released from quarantine to return to home as scheduled.

He said the group is waiting for the Chinese health officials' response.

"The kids are sitting around central China waiting for news," he said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com