Swine flu scare hits Wimbledon ball boys and girls

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Fears over a possible swine flu outbreak at Wimbledon were raised today after a number of ball boys and girls were asked to stay at home.

The All England Club said three or four ball boys and girls suffering a "flu-like illness" were asked to stay away from the tournament.

But having "consulted closely" with the Health Protection Agency, the club moved to reassure people that the move was a precaution and the championships would continue as normal.

Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said: "This is a precautionary measure. We know the climate we are operating in."

He said those affected were not being tested for swine flu and had not been swabbed.

But he added the virus was in communities and schools and "it would be strange" if Wimbledon authorities did not take a pro-active approach.

He added that there were no reports of any players being affected by flu-like symptoms.

And he said there has been no change this year to the "on court towel handling routine".

Ball boys and girls hand the towels to players in between points so they can wipe away their sweat.

A statement from All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie read: "A small number of our Championships' personnel have reported a flu-like illness and consequently been asked to stay at home.

"Having consulted closely with the Health Protection Agency, we have been reassured that since the incidence is entirely in line with the wider London community, there is no particular extra risk to all those connected with the event, be they players, media, staff or spectators, and we are able to continue with the championships as normal."

Anyone with symptoms such as fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough, was urged to stay away from the championships or, if on site, consult St John Ambulance.

Asked about the flu, defending champion Venus Williams said: "I just got a letter but I haven't had a chance to read it.

"I guess there are sicknesses all around. Hopefully, the players won't get sick."

Asked about the use of towels, she said: "Hopefully, our immune systems are strong enough, that's what they are there for.

"We can all put ours in use, take some vitamin C and keep playing."

Williams was speaking after securing a place in the quarter-finals when opponent Ana Ivanovic retired with a groin injury in the second set of their match.