May 19, 2006 at 06:11pm IST

Teenagers hit by soap opera virus

Lisbon: An illness that medical officials are calling the "Strawberries with Sugar Virus" is sweeping Portuguese schools as children complain of symptoms similar to those suffered by characters in a television soap opera.

More than 300 children have complained of symptoms including rashes, breathing difficulties and dizziness at 14 schools in different parts of the country.

Some schools have been forced to close. The outbreak came a few days after the popular Strawberries with Sugar teenage television show aired an episode about a life-threatening virus descending on a school.

STRAWBERRY BLUES: Potuguese children are suffering from what the medicos refer to as "Strawberries with Sugar Virus".

Medical officials believe many children, after watching the show, feared their own minor rashes and wheezes were something serious.

Others noted the outbreak came at the same time as end-of-year exams.

"What we concretely have is a few children with allergies and apparently a phenomenon of many other children imitating," said doctor Nelson Pereira, director of the national institute of medical emergencies.