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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 14:18 GMT
School hit by flu outbreak
St Margaret's High
More than 350 pupils have been affected
Health officials have warned that there are signs Scotland could be on the verge of a significant flu outbreak.

It follows confirmation that more than 350 pupils from a school in Lanarkshire have the flu.

Children at St Margaret's High school in Airdrie started to become unwell about 10 days ago.

One hundred or about one third of pupils from S1 and S2 were initially affected, but within 6 days it spread to affect a further 250 older pupils.

Flu jab
More than 65% of at 'risk groups' have had the jab

Two schools in the Borders were also said to be experiencing a flu outbreak.

Age Concern Scotland has urged "every older person" to make sure they are protected from the latest flu strain.

In Airdrie, the results of laboratory tests confirmed on Thursday evening that it was influenza.

Other schools in the area have reported similar illness and health officials said this was clear evidence that flu was now spreading through the community.

GP practices act as spotters recording numbers of flu victims attending surgeries.

This information is relayed to Health Boards and collated nationally to give early warnings of any potential flu epidemic emerging.

Frank Berry, rector at St Margaret's High, said: "We have to be very careful that the pupils are not meeting with very young children or people who are already ill."

Dr David Cromie
David Cromie: "The incubation period takes a couple of days"

Public health consultant Dr David Cromie urged people over 65 to ensure they have been vaccinated.

Dr Cromie said that anyone with flu should take all possible steps to prevent further spread and avoid contact with work colleagues and fellow pupils wherever possible.

He said: "Pupils were complaining of headaches, fever and tummy pains.

"We went into the school on Monday and took some swabs from the children and we have subsequently confirmed influenza A as the cause.

"Flu can occur anytime really between October and March. The incubation period for the illness is a couple of days.

"It is then a matter of how people interact with their families or with work colleagues."

'Levels of protection'

Dr Cromie said that about 60% of over 65s had been vaccinated, but there was still a need for everyone to take the necessary precautions.

He said that anyone with flu like symptoms would be best advised to stay away from work.

"It is usual for community outbreaks to start in institutions such as schools," he added.

"It is difficult to predict the magnitude of the effect on the community at large, since it depends on levels of protection (previous infection and vaccination), strain of flu and how infectious and severe the particular strain is."

Elsewhere, a Borders Council spokesman said that the bug affected 40% of pupils at Berwickshire High school.

Elderly person
Old people are urged to protect themselves

The virus was first detected at the school over three weeks ago, but now appeared to be on the wane, he said.

He also revealed that 190 children at Eyemouth High school could not travel to school at the start of this week because they contracted the flu strain.

"The virus at Eyemouth seems to be following a similar pattern, but is about four to five days behind Berwickshire," the spokesman said.

'Take the opportunity'

"It was particularly prominent in Berwickshire as a very large proportion of the pupils are taken to school by bus and in such a confined space the virus can spread easily."

Director of Age Concern Scotland, Maureen O'Neill, said that it was vital older people heeded the warnings and protected themselves against any significant outbreak.

She said: "Ministers have said that the NHS is well on its way to beating the target of immunizing 65% of 'at risk' groups, but we want to see every older person take up the opportunity to protect themselves."

BBC's Forbes McFall reports
"Health officials are worried that the flu will spread"
Dr David Cromie
"The flu can occur anytime between October and March"
See also:

07 Nov 00 | Scotland
Winter flu epidemic warning
18 Sep 00 | Scotland
More Scots offered flu jab
17 Jan 00 | Scotland
Flu outbreak waning
10 Jan 00 | Scotland
Deacon faces renewed flu attack
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