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Swine flu troubles travelers heading to LAX

April 27, 2009 |  3:54 pm

The Times' Ron Lin flew back to Los Angeles this morning from Tokyo and reports on the reactions to the swine flu outbreak among his fellow passengers:

Japanesepaper At Narita International Airport, television monitors announced that quarantine doctors would begin boarding flights arriving from Mexico to check for signs of ill passengers.

Authorities at the airport -- one of Asia’s largest hubs, with 35 million passengers served each year -- posted notices in Japanese encouraging passengers flying abroad to wear masks.

The airport drug store reported a 30% increase in mask sales, according to the evening edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, and Japanese passengers said they'd had a hard time finding masks at stores.

On United Airlines Flight 890 to Los Angeles, retiree Tomoko Morita, a Buena Park resident, initially expressed little concern about the swine flu reports. Then she read the headlines of the evening newspapers, which reported the death toll rising to more than 100 in Mexico, the U.S. declaration of an emergency and nuns wearing masks at a church in Mexico.

“Oh, wow,” Morita said. “This is getting serious.”

Many American passengers said they were aware of swine flu case but confident in U.S. health authorities ability to respond.

“It seems like they have a handle on the situation,” said Janice Marcus, 32, of Vista, Calif., heading back home from a two-week vacation in Japan with her husband and 5-year old daughter. “They’re identifying cases quickly, they’re presumably isolating those cases quickly, and they’re treating them quickly…. We’re not too worried at this point.”

James Kurk, 24, of Stockton expressed faith in U.S. health authorities.

“I think for Americans, the CDC has dealt with several epidemics. Call me crazy, but I think I’ll put my faith in the government,” said Kurk, who was in Japan for a wedding.

His friend, Tony Mazzenga, 28, of El Monte, nodded.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Mazzenga said.

“I don’t buy into the paranoia,” said Diviana Ingravallo, 47, a West Hollywood resident returning from a trip to Hong Kong.

Most passengers on the flight did not wear masks. But with the memory of SARS still fresh in the minds of some, about a dozen were wearing masks after they landed in Los Angeles, particularly worried that they may encounter passengers flying in from Mexico.

“I’m very concerned,” said Kanna Kanzaki, 36, a resident of Yokohama, Japan, visiting Los Angeles for a vacation. She donned on a mask before heading to the  baggage claim. “I went to see a doctor this morning and got Tamiflu to prevent the virus…. I’m surprised I’m not seeing many people wear masks here because I saw on the news in Mexico they were passing them out.”

Kanzaki’s concerns persuaded a passenger who sat next to her, Isaac Gregg, 25, of Denver, to wear an extra mask Kanzaki had. He wore the mask while being checked through customs and picking up his bags.

“I didn’t know anything about this pig flu,” said Gregg, returning from a trip to Thailand. “These girls from Japan convinced me to put one on. I figured it’d be rude to turn down this prized mask, you know?”

--Rong-Gong Lin II

Related: Complete coverage of the swine flu outbreak

Photo: Front page of Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II/Los Angeles Times

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