FRENCH POLYNESIA RECORDS FIRST FLU DEATHS

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Some 10,000 cases of swine flu across the territory

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, August 22, 2009) – The French Polynesia Health Ministry has announced Tahiti's first swine flu deaths—two women and a baby. It also announced there are an estimated 10,000 influenza A cases throughout French Polynesia, with 20 people hospitalized.

A Health Ministry communiqué provided no information about the deaths and when they occurred. Its only comment was, "Since the epidemic's beginning, three deaths linked to the influenza A/H1N1 have been reported—two women and an infant."

However, the ministry had previously reported that Papeete and Paris health officials had not identified as swine flu-caused deaths two deaths over the past two weeks. They included Thursday's death of a one-and-a-half-year-old baby. The latest report was that blood samples from the baby and a young woman who died on Aug. 5 were still being examined at a private laboratory in France.

Friday's communiqué reported that the influenza A virus had spread throughout most of the islands and atolls of French Polynesia. It specifically named Tahiti, Moorea, all of the Leeward Islands (Bora Bora, Raiatea, Huahine and Maupiti), the Marquesas Islands (Atuona, Fatu Hiva, Ua Pou, Taiohae), the Austral Islands (Rurutu, Tubuai, Rapa) and the Tuamotu-Gambier Islands (Manihi, Fakarava, Ahe, Makemo, Tatakoto, Hao).

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced in a second communiqué that it will no longer recommend that any school classrooms or entire schools be shut down due to students coming down with the influenza A (H1N1).

However, classrooms and schools already closed will remain closed for whatever period was originally announced. In the first communiqué, the ministry said 38 primary schools, 183 primary classrooms, eight secondary schools and 183 secondary classrooms had been closed.

French Polynesia Health Minister Nicolas Bertholon was interviewed Friday night on RFO-Polynésie, the French government owned and operated television station. He indicated that the Temaru government had decided to radically change its policy dealing with school and classroom closings.

Up until the new decision, the Health Ministry's policy was to close a classroom when there were three suspected cases of swine flu, and to close an entire school when half its classrooms had been closed.

Bertholon explained to the evening television audience the reversal decision by saying that instead of trying to contain the influenza A epidemic to avoid an economic impact, "we did exactly the opposite because for three ill students, 30 students were sent home and 30 parents were also blocked at home to take care of their children".

The health minister added that all schools in French Polynesia would be fully open next week.

Bertholon also talked during the TV interview about the French government's decision Friday to send "medical and technical reinforcements" to French Polynesia and New Caledonia due to the swine flu's progression in both French Pacific overseas collectivities.

New Caledonia's government has reported the deaths of three persons who were being treated for other illnesses and an estimated 20,000 possible influenza A cases.

For Tahiti, the French government decision means:

 

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