Sunday, April 26, 2009


NEW YORK (AP) — New York City was dealing with a growing public health threat Sunday after tests confirmed that eight students at a private Catholic high school had contracted swine flu. Some of the school’s students had visited Mexico on a spring break trip two weeks ago.

New York officials previously had characterized the cases as probable, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that it was swine flu, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

About 100 students at St. Francis Preparatory School in the borough of Queens complained of flulike symptoms; further tests will determine how many of those cases are swine flu.

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Mr. Bloomberg stressed that the New York cases were mild and that many are recovering, but said parents of the students also had flu symptoms, “suggesting it is spreading person to person.”

He said that the virus likely came from Mexico, although that has not officially been determined.

“We do know that some of the students from the school had a spring break in Mexico,” Mr. Bloomberg said, surrounded by top city officials and members of Congress. “It is most likely to be brought back from Mexico, but nobody knows.”

Federal health officials said Sunday that 20 swine flu cases have been reported so far in New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California. Patients have ranged in age from 9 to over 50. At least two were hospitalized. All recovered or are recovering.

In Mexico, health officials say a strain of swine flu has killed up to 81 people and sickened more than 1,000.

New York officials said the flu strain discovered in the patients here is similar to the one in Mexico, but not as severe at this point. They are still conducting tests to investigate the strain in New York.

St. Francis is the largest private Catholic high school in the nation, with 2,700 students. The school canceled classes on Monday and Tuesday in response to the outbreak.

Parent Jackie Casola said Sunday that her son Robert Arifo, a St. Francis sophomore, told her on Thursday that a number of children had been sent home because of illness. On Friday, he said hardly anyone was in school.

Ms. Casola said she expected to keepher son home from school on Monday, even if it was open. He hasn’t shown any symptoms, but some of his friends have, she said, and she has been extra vigilant about his health.

“I must have drove him crazy. I kept taking his temperature in the middle of the night,” she said.

In New York, state infectious-diseases, epidemiology and disaster-preparedness workers have been dispatched to monitor and respond to possible flu cases. Gov. David Paterson said 1,500 treatment courses of the antiviral Tamiflu had been sent to New York City.

The city health department has asked doctors to take extra precautions and test patients who have flu symptoms and have traveled recently to California, Texas or Mexico. Mr. Bloomberg and health officials also urged people to cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze and cough, and not to leave the house for two days after the symptoms disappear.

Investigators also tested children who fell ill at a day care center in the Bronx, but the tests came back negative. Two Manhattan families also have contacted the city, saying they had recently returned ill from Mexico with flu symptoms, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said. Those cases also were found to not be swine flu.

Mr. Frieden said New Yorkers having trouble breathing because of an undiagnosed respiratory illness should seek treatment but shouldn’t become overly alarmed. Medical facilities near St. Francis Prep already have been flooded with people overreacting to the outbreak, he said.

“The bottom line is there is an outbreak at St. Francis school, and we are monitoring that outbreak very carefully,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

In Ohio, state health officials said a 9-year-old boy who recently traveled to Mexico on vacation with his family has a confirmed case of swine flu and is recovering at his home. Officials do not know whether the boy has the same strain linked to the deaths in Mexico, health department spokesman Robert Jennings said.

Kansas health officials said Saturday that they had confirmed swine flu in a married couple living in the central part of the state after the husband visited Mexico. The couple, who live in Dickinson County, weren’t hospitalized, and the state described their illnesses as mild.

“Fortunately, the man and woman understand the gravity of the situation and are very willing to isolate themselves,” said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, the state health officer.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A flu viruses, the CDC’s Web site says. Human cases are uncommon but can occur in people who are around pigs. It also can be spread from person to person. Symptoms include a high fever, body aches, coughing, sore throat and respiratory congestion.

At least nine swine flu cases have been reported in California and Texas. The most recent California case, the state’s seventh, was a 35-year-old woman from Imperial County who got sick in early April. She had no known contact with the others.

Health officials are concerned because people appear to have no immunity to the virus, a combination of bird, swine and human influenzas. The virus also presents itself like other swine flus, but none of the U.S. cases appear to involve direct contact with pigs, Dr. Eberhart-Phillips said.

Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.

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