H1N1 flu fears cuts short China trip for Florida students

MIAMI — Nicholas Bartolotta couldn't believe his name was on a list of 10 tourists from South Florida who may have been exposed to swine flu during a flight from Hong Kong to Beijing.

That meant quarantine.

The Coconut Creek teen already had made it to the doorstep of Tiananmen Square and was about to begin an 18-day China excursion. Now the group faced quarantine for a week because of a random seating arrangement during their flight. The nine students and teacher from Broward and Palm Beach counties were seated at the back of the aircraft, within three rows of someone with a confirmed case of the flu.

"I was just thinking 'this is a joke,' " Bartolotta said. "I knew I didn't have the swine flu. I didn't have any of the symptoms. I felt fine."

So did everyone else on the list. But soon they would be prodded, poked and quarantined in a Beijing hotel and hospital while the rest of the 31-member People to People Ambassadors group enjoyed their trip of a lifetime.

"Mainly I was just angry because I was missing the two things I came on the trip for: the Great Wall and the Clay soldiers," said Bartolotta, a Pompano Beach High senior. "But I was nervous because I didn't know exactly what was happening."

The group with People to People, an organization that bridges cultural and political gaps through educational trips around the world, had the misfortune of traveling at a time when the World Health Organization has begun calling the H1N1 outbreak a pandemic.

Nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries, according to Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, which declared the flu a global epidemic on Thursday.

To read the complete article, visit

Related stories from McClatchy DC