H1N1 flu worries spread

2009-05-29 14:57

Canberra - The H1N1 flu virus appears to have spread from crew to passengers on a cruise ship off Australia and China has reported a suspected case of local transmission.

The 2 000-passenger ship was diverted to a port in Queensland after the liner's owner said up to five passengers were suspected of being infected after an outbreak among the crew. The five will be tested.

"We are being extremely cautious in our testing arrangements for anybody who presents themselves with flu-like symptoms," P&O Cruises spokesperson Ann Sherry told reporters.

The Pacific Dawn cut short a voyage on Australia's Great Barrier Reef after three crew members were confirmed on Thursday to have the new and potentially fatal virus. P&O said all three had been aboard the same ship on a South Pacific cruise last week in which dozens of passengers were infected.

The cruise began in Sydney on Monday with the passengers unaware that scores of passengers from the previous cruise that had disembarked that day had flu symptoms.

"Our biggest problem is that we should never have left Sydney," former passenger Bevan Wagstaff told Ten Network television news on Friday in Queensland. Wagstaff and his wife were taken to shore late on Thursday with their daughter, who needed treatment for a broken arm.

The cruise ship will let off 150 passengers in Queensland's capital Brisbane on Saturday, though the Queensland government warned it will invoke tough quarantine powers to prevent passengers who do not live in the state from disembarking. Those who do will be asked to isolate themselves at home for seven days, Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young said.

Australia's count of confirmed cases jumped by 20 on Friday to 167.

China, meanwhile, said it suspects the virus has been transmitted within the country for the first time.

A 24-year-old woman in the southern city of Guangzhou tested positive on Thursday after developing a fever, the Chinese Health Ministry said on its website.

Before the latest case, there had been 13 confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in mainland China as of Thursday. All caught the flu overseas.

Singapore's health ministry late on Thursday said three more people have contracted H1N1 flu, a day after announcing the country's first case.

The Philippines announced on Friday another four cases, bringing the nation's total to 14.