Friday, May 15, 2009

New York City Closes Six Public Schools for Swine Flu

New York City closed three more public schools today, raising the number of shuttered schools to six in a renewed outbreak of swine flu that first sickened hundreds of residents about three weeks ago.

The New York health department today closed two schools in the borough of Queens and one in Brooklyn for five days after 128 students reported flu-like illnesses that could be swine flu, known as H1N1, the department said in an e-mailed statement. Three other schools were closed yesterday after health authorities found “unusually high levels” of flu symptoms and a male assistant principal at one of the schools was hospitalized in critical condition, New York’s first serious swine flu illness, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

New York City was the first area in the U.S. last month to report more than a dozen cases of swine flu that has now reached 35 countries and sickened more than 7,500 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. City health authorities said May 1 they would test only those New Yorkers seriously ill with flu-like symptoms because most local cases of the H1N1 influenza were no more severe than seasonal flu. At the time, Bloomberg said more than 1,000 people in the city may have been infected with the virus.

Monitoring H1N1

“We are continuing to carefully monitor H1N1 virus throughout the city, and are taking action again today because there are unusually high and increasing levels of flu-like illnesses at these three public schools,” said Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden in the statement.

The schools closed today were JHS 74Q, or the Nathanial Hawthorne School in Bayside, where 26 students were sickened; Public School 107Q, or Thomas A. Dooley School in Flushing, where 49 students were ill and Intermediate School 318K, or Eugenio Maria De Hostos School in Williamsburg, where 53 students reported symptoms, according to the health department.

The schools shut yesterday were IS 238, or the Susan B. Anthony School, where the assistant principal worked, 16Q in Corona, Queens, and IS 5Q, the Walter Crowley Intermediate School in Elmhurst, Queens. A total of more than 7,900 students attend the six schools, the health department reported.

The school closures were ordered because swine flu appears to spread more easily than seasonal flu though it doesn’t appear to be more dangerous, the health department said.

Mayor’s Comments

“I know that many will find this information troubling, but information I’ve always thought is the best antidote to anxiety and we will continue to provide New Yorkers with clear, accurate and timely information as we have it,” Bloomberg said last night. “By taking common sense precautions and not by overreacting we will get through this together.”

Symptoms of H1N1 include fever, cough, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, sore throat and sometimes diarrhea and nausea. Bloomberg advised New Yorkers to go to the doctor if they have trouble breathing but stay home if it’s not severe for at least 24 hours, and to cover mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs, who supervises the Health Department, said yesterday that the city’s hospital monitoring system detected the flu outbreak at the first set of schools.

The two middle schools closed yesterday each reported about 17 percent absent with illness. The elementary school had 29 ill students of about 1,500, “but all 29 reported with flu-symptoms in the nurse’s office,” Gibbs said.

Swine flu is confirmed in 4,714 cases in the U.S., including four deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported today. A Texas man in his 30s who died last week was listed today as the fourth U.S. swine flu- related death, the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a statement on its Web site. Seventy people have died worldwide from the virus, health authorities reported.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.