New Zealand Confirms 3 Swine Flu Cases

New Zealand has confirmed three people have tested positive for swine flu - the first in the Asia-Pacific region.

Eight more patients are awaiting test results and officials expect they too have contracted the virus, which is thought to have killed at least 150 people in Mexico.

The three New Zealanders who have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus were among a group of 25 students and teachers from an Auckland high school who returned from Mexico on Saturday.

The swine flu infections were confirmed after samples were sent to a World Health Organization laboratory in the Australian city of Melbourne.

Health officials in Auckland say it is likely that eight others in the group also will be confirmed as suffering from swine flu.

Victims responding to treatment

The 11 patients were understood to be showing only mild symptoms and had been responding to treatment with the anti-flu medication Tamiflu.

More than 50 other people in New Zealand are being monitored for suspected swine flu.

New Zealand has raised the alert level of its national pandemic plan and is screening all flights arriving from North America.

Emergency response plans activated

The clinical director for Auckland Regional Public Health, Dr. Julia Peters, says well rehearsed emergency response plans have been activated.

"We have responded to this extremely quickly," Dr. Peters said. "We have put all our available resources into it and more and from the time we got the first phone call, we have taken it extremely seriously. Over the last few years throughout New Zealand, the ministry has led a number of national exercises where we have tested our plans and our processes, but I think the preparation that we have done has put us in a much stronger position to deal with the situation we are in at the moment."

Australian officials are monitoring about 20 suspected swine flu cases spread throughout the eastern states of New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania.

In Mexico, where this outbreak of swine flu first appeared, it is believed to have infected more than 1,600 people. Cases have since been found in the United States, Canada, Israel and Europe.