Streams

Mayor: Flu Has Spread, Not Usual

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mayor Bloomberg updates New Yorkers on the Swine Flu, April 28, 2009. (Edward Reed)

Mayor Bloomberg updates New Yorkers on the Swine Flu, April 28, 2009. (Edward Reed)

One cluster. That's what Mayor Bloomberg and other officials told reporters to focus on yesterday: the single swine flu outbreak at St. Francis Preparatory School.

Twenty-four hours later, two additional clusters have emerged at other schools, and there are five individual cases health authorities are analyzing.

So far, almost all the cases have been mild. All but a couple of people at St. Francis have been improving. Now, however, we've learned of the first hospitalizations: an adult, who was admitted and discharged, and a two-year-old, who is still in an undisclosed hospital. Nation-wide there had been one hospitalization. To date, there are still no deaths in the US. In Mexico, there have been more than 150.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden says in many regards the swine flu is following a normal pattern of spreading, except that it's much later than usual. What's troubling, he says, are the deaths in Mexico and the unpredictability of a new strain. But in a city of eight million people, thousands die each year from normal flu. No one should be surprised, Frieden and Bloomberg repeatedly say, if this one leads to more hospitalizations and, yes, even deaths.

'We do not know whether it will continue to spread new strains sometimes fizzle out, over time. And we do not know if it's worse. So far it doesn't appear to be. But it's early.'

Bloomberg and Frieden say they now believe 'hundreds' of people associated with St. Francis were probably infected with swine flu, but they say there's no point in testing them all. Most were mild. Almost all seem to be on the mend.

Whatever practical value there is to NOT testing them in order to focus resources elsewhere, the city will benefit -- if that's the word -- from merely having its 45 confirmed cases pasted on cable news maps (already more than the rest of the country), rather than a number in the hundreds.
People wear surgical masks to help prevent being infected with the swine flu, as they ride the subway on April 28, 2009, in Mexico City.

People wear surgical masks to help prevent being infected with the swine flu, as they ride the subway on April 28, 2009, in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, city health officials are currently investigating reports of flu symptoms at the School of the Ascension, a parochial elementary school in Manhattan, and P.S. 177, a public special ed school in Queens. P.S. 177 is just blocks from Saint Francis Prep, where the city's outbreak started. Mayor Bloomberg says that may be the reason why students and staff at P.S. 177 have started falling ill.

"Of the approx 380 in school, 82 currently called in sick, 12 of them with documented fever, and one of those has two siblings at Saint Francis."

St. Francis will remain closed tomorrow, as will P.S. 177. There are another six children with fevers at Ascension Catholic School on Manhattan's Upper West Side. No decision had yet been made about closing the school.

Frieden says the city has a million doses of Tamiflu, ready to be delivered to hospitals in the event the swine flu escalates. But he and Mayor Bloomberg played down that possibility, saying it's a mild illness, similar to the regular, seasonal flu. Frieden also emphasized that only genuinely sick people should be buying Tamiflu.

"We have heard of spot shortages of Tamiflu in local pharmacies because so many people have gone and bought it. The manufacture tells us that there is plenty in the supply chain, just not in the pharmacy yet. We encourage people who are healthy and have no reason to take Tamiflu, please don't take it."

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