By Frederick Katulanda, Mwanza
Panic has gripped Mwanza as 142 primary school pupils, teachers and villagers have tested positive to swine flu infection at Ilula village in Kwimba District in the region.
This is the only large sample to be infected at a go since the first case of the disease, that has killed at least one person in Manyara Region, was discovered earlier this year.
Ilula Primary School, where the disease reportedly first broke out before spreading into the surrounding village, has been closed indefinitely.
It has since been quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus to other areas, the Mwanza regional medical officer, Dr Meshack Massi, said yesterday.
However, he was quick to allay fears among Mwanza residents and assured them that steps have been taken to safeguard their lives.
He told reporters that sufficient stocks of medicine for treatment of the disease have been distributed by the Government to respective health centres.
He said a medical team has already been deployed to the village to gather more medical records and test samples in order for the Government to take appropriate measures.
"What is important is for residents in the region to remain calm, understand symptoms of the disease and report to their neighbourhood or village leaders on any symptoms that they may have noticed," he said.
Dr Massi said the primary school situated along Mwanza-Shinyanga highway was closed on Wednesday. This was after samples of 56 pupils and teachers were taken from the school comprising the new strain of influenza A virus sub-type H1N1 that was first detected last March and April.
The swine flu outbreak that has been reported in many countries was first noticed in Veracruz, Mexico. Evidence indicated that there had been an ongoing epidemic there for months before it was officially recognized as such.
Despite the Mexican government's efforts to close most Mexico City's public and private facilities in an attempt to contain the virus, it continued to spread globally and has killed thousands of people around the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic last June and indicated that 7,909 deaths were confirmed worldwide by Wednesday.
Dr Massi said symptoms of the disease were first detected in the region on Thursday last week.
This came about when the primary school teachers were shocked by an increasing number of pupils and their fellow teachers catching the flu.
"We resolved to take samples of the pupils and teachers immediately after being informed of the situation. We confirmed yesterday that all the samples and pupils tested swine flu positive," he said.
The RMO said the entire Ilula village had been quarantined. The school had also been turned into a temporary health facility for the pupils, teachers and villagers so far confirmed to have been infected with the disease.
"We are still investigating to find out how the disease penetrated into the primary school. But preliminary findings indicate that it might have been brought by a parent of one of the pupils, who is a businessman, as he has been travelling widely in and outside the country," Dr Massi said.
The Government had made the decision to turn the primary school into a health facility because the Kwimba district hospital was far from the village, and the village dispensary could not accommodate all patients.
Similar to other influenza viruses, the pandemic H1N1 is typically contracted by person to person transmission through respiratory droplets. Symptoms usually last between four and six days.
While only mild symptoms are experienced by the majority of people, some have more severe symptoms. Mild symptoms may include fever, sore throat, cough, headache, muscle or joint pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Asthmatics, diabetics and people with obesity, heart disease, the immuno-compromised, children with neuro-developmental conditions and pregnant women are at risk of more severe infection.
It is recommended that those with the symptoms stay home, away from school, work and crowded places to avoid spreading the infection.
Other places that have recorded a high number of such cases in the country are Dar es Salaam and Mbulu. In the latter, a woman victim who was a teacher died soon after infection.
She had been admitted alongside scores of other patients who tested positive to the infection whose spread has, however, gone down in both the places.
As in neighbouring Kenya that also recorded the first cases in the region, the Tanzanian case begun with a visiting British student who was diagnosed with the virus soon after arriving for an internship programme.
Since then sporadic reports about new cases were reported in some Dar es Salaam schools with a high number of foreign students and, surprisingly, in Mbulu that prior to the Mwanza cases had the highest number of people found with the virus.