[back] Swine flu 2009

[Never mind, it's selling the Tamiflu!]

Swine flu? It's just like a cold, says girl, 12, who was one of six hit at same public school

By Lucy Ballinger, Claire Ellicott and Caroline Grant
Last updated at 9:24 AM on 05th May 2009


Sophie de Salis, 12, fell ill with swine flu last week but is now on the mend

Sophie de Salis, 12, fell ill with swine flu last week but is now on the mend

Six pupils at a public school have contracted swine flu after one caught it on holiday in America.

Alleyn's School in South London was closed after it was confirmed that the Year 7 pupils had the the virus.

Last night worried parents flocked to pick up Tamiflu antiviral drugs being distributed to every pupil and member of staff at the 14,000-a-year co-educational school. 

All staff had been drafted in on the Bank Holiday to telephone parents. Each year group was allocated a 45-minute slot to collect supplies.

Altogether nine new UK cases of swine flu were confirmed yesterday taking the total to 27. More than 300 suspected cases are being tested.

Alleyn's, whose alumni include CS Forester, Jude Law and Pixie Geldof was the fourth school to close after its pupils became ill.

The Dolphin School in Battersea also shut last night, bringing the total number of closures to five.

Two pupils at the independent primary - who were among the new cases confirmed yesterday - had contracted the virus. They are thought to be siblings of one at Alleyn's.


A telephone answering message informed parents that the decision had been taken as a precaution by the board of governors.

So far, the virus has proved weaker outside Mexico but Britain's chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson warned against complacency this morning.

'At this stage I think it would be premature to conclude that this is a mild infection,' he said. 'We need to be very cautious when we are dealing with children.' 

Worrying times: Parents picking up antiviral drugs at Alleyn's School in London

Worrying times: Parents picking up antiviral drugs at Alleyn's School in London

A blanket leaflet drop, organised by the Government, giving advice on how to avoid catching the virus or what to do if you start showing symptoms will start today.

The World Health Organisation has so far held off from raising its alert to the highest level, but the outbreak has forced education officials to draw up contingency plans for the forthcoming exam season.

Last night a spokesman from Ofqual, which regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England, said officials would assess the situation today.

She said: 'There are well-established procedures for dealing with situations where students are unable to sit their examinations. We will ensure that standards are not undermined.'

Caution: Another parent with Tamiflu outside the school

Ofqual is considering plans for thousands of children to sit exams in quarantine. If schools are closed, advice is likely to include moving exams to another building.

In extreme cases, pupils with the virus might have qualifications graded on coursework.

More than 600,000 pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to take GCSEs this month and next, and 300,000 will sit A-levels.

In addition, 1.2million English primary pupils are taking SATs this month. Alleyn's School is closed until May 11, despite art and language A-Level exams due to take place this week.

Headmaster Dr Colin Diggory said: 'It was a difficult decision to close the school, particularly with public examinations in the pipeline.

'However, we are making contingency plans for those pupils due to take exams to minimise any inconvenience.' 

One of the Alleyn's pupils with swine flu is 12-year-old Sophie De Salis.

She was sent home from school on Wednesday with a high temperature and was tested for the virus on Saturday.

By yesterday she was feeling better and was resting at home.

Sophie said: 'I just felt like I had a cough and was under the weather. When I found out it was swine flu I was worried but really it just felt like a normal cold. I don't think it's anything to worry about.' 

Her mother Felicity said she had a phone call from the school on Friday night alerting her to a swine flu outbreak.

She said: 'They swabbed all the children who had been ill that week but by the time the test was taken on Saturday Sophie was already feeling much better.' 

The family were told yesterday that Sophie tested positive for the virus, but no one else in the family was suffering from any symptoms.

'We wouldn't have thought for a second that Sophie had swine flu,' said Mrs De Salis. 'She just felt under the weather and it was like any other illness.'

Alleyn's School in Dulwich, south east London

Closed: Alleyn's School in Dulwich, south east London, where six pupils have now fallen ill with swine flu, will be closed for at least a week

Sophie's sisters Alex, 17, and Katie, 14, also go to Alleyn's but have not been tested for swine flu.

Mrs De Salis, 48, said: 'We haven't been tested as a family, it's only the people who have shown symptoms that are getting swabbed.'

She and her husband Nick, an accountant, have not been told to stay at home, while Sophie has been told to be 'sensible' about who she comes into contact with and where she goes.

The father of another of the pupils at Alleyn's School who caught the virus said she fell ill last week.

Francis Wyburd, 45, who asked that his daughter not be named, said: 'She was a bit poorly last Thursday and so she took Friday off school.

'The Health Protection Agency sent someone over on Saturday to take a swab. They then biked Tamiflu round to her.

'She is fine, she is in isolation in her bedroom at the moment. She's only got minor symptoms now.'

Mr Wyburd, a self- employed marketing consultant from Herne Hill, South London, said his daughter was not particularly friendly with the other pupils who had the virus. 

'We don't know how she got ill,' he said. 'No one can quite work it out.

The cases confirmed yesterday included two adults from London and the West Midlands who recently returned from Mexico.

The Department of Health said the other seven new cases appeared to have been acquired from person-to-person contact.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC he expects a second, more serious, wave of cases later this year.