An outbreak of influenza at a Tel Aviv elementary school has sparked fears of a swine flu pandemic, although the strain of the virus, which has affected two-thirds of the school's pupils, remains unclear.
Parents of some 80 pupils at the Ussishkin elementary school in Tel Aviv notified the school on Sunday that their children were experiencing high fevers and other flu-like symptoms, setting off alarm bells at the school that an outbreak of influenza was afoot.
On Monday, an additional 40 pupils began experiencing similar symptoms, leading the school's parents' committee to effectively shut the school down. According to the Education Ministry, teachers arrived at the school on Tuesday, but all 180 pupils remained at home.
"There's definitely a problem here," a spokesman for the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "The Health Ministry is currently performing a number of checks on students to see what they are suffering from, but at the moment, it's still unclear."
According to the spokesman, it is unlikely that the outbreak is swine flu, since such a large number of the pupils came down with what appears to be the same sickness "in one fell swoop."
"And that's not how swine flu outbreaks usually occur," the spokesman continued. "Usually it begins with a few people, and then spreads to others. This happened over the course of one weekend, because according to what we know, all of the students were completely healthy last Friday."
The spokesman added that there had been an Israel Scouts meeting over the weekend that had drawn a large number of the pupils, and that was being eyed as the possible source of the outbreak.
"But we believe that this is an outbreak of some kind of 48-hour virus and not swine flu," the spokesman stressed. "Of course, we'll know more as the pupils' conditions develop. I know that the Health Ministry has conducted blood tests on a number of the pupils, and we're awaiting those results as well."
The Health Ministry also released a statement that there was no need to panic, and that the situation was under control.
"The [Tel Aviv] Municipality is also doing everything it can to control the situation," the spokesman said. "[It has] brought in cleaning crews to sterilize the school, and I think, while everyone has been calm and collected here, we're all just hopeful that this is a minor bug that will pass soon."
Since the World Health Organization's director-general Margaret Chan declared swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, a "public health emergency of international concern" last April, over 4,300 Israelis have suffered from the influenza strain.
While 34 deaths in Israel have been officially linked to swine flu, only two of those were caused directly by the H1N1 virus. Others who suffered from the virus before their deaths had existing medical conditions, which significantly weakened their ability to fight the illness.