Swine Flu Declared an Emergency, Probable in NYC Students


swine-fluTests show that eight students at a Queens high school are likely to have contracted the human swine flu virus that has struck Mexico and a small number of other people in the United States, health officials in New York City said. The students were among about 100 at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows who became sick in the last few days, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City’s health commissioner.

“All the cases were mild, no child was hospitalized, no child was seriously ill,” Dr. Frieden said.

Health officials reached their preliminary conclusion after conducting viral tests on nose or throat swabs from the eight students, which allowed them to eliminate other strains of flu. Officials were also suspicious since some St. Francis students had been to Mexico recently. The samples have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the only lab in the country that can positively confirm the new flu swine strain – which has been identified as H1N1 strain. Results were expected on Sunday, officials said.

Outside New York, at least 11 swine flu cases have been confirmed in the United States – in California, Texas and Kansas, where two cases were reported on Saturday. There have been no deaths and officials said most of the 11 seemed to be recovering.

The outbreak has killed at least 68 people in Mexico and infected about 1,000 others.

Fearing a panic that might tax local health facilities, Dr. Frieden urged New Yorkers not to go to a hospital if they had typical mild cold or flu symptoms. If they are seriously ill, especially with lung problems, they should seek medial attention promptly, he said, because anti-flu drugs work best if taken in the first 48 hours of symptoms.

Because of fears of the H5N1 avian flu, both New York City and the United States have had detailed pandemic emergency plans in place since 2005, as well as stockpiles of emergency supplies and flu drugs (the plan can be read at www.pandemicflu.gov).

Dr. Frieden said that for such an emergency, the city had extra hospital ventilators, huge reserves of masks and gloves and “millions of doses of Tamiflu,” an anti-flu drug that thus far appears to work against the new swine strain.

In a reaction to the flu outbreak, the World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting of experts on Saturday in Geneva, while public health officials in the United States huddled on conference calls to discuss what steps, if any, to take.

Officials with the W.H.O. were discussing whether to declare an international public health emergency, a move that could involve travel advisories and the closing of borders.

In Mexico, where the flu outbreak is believed to have started, the president assumed emergency powers to deal with the crisis. All public gatherings were banned, including more than 500 concerts and sporting events and the popular bicycle rides on closed boulevards. A few dozen more suspected cases were reported.

In the United States, so far, most of the swine flu cases have been mild. Seven were confirmed in California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties, and two 16-year-olds and possibly a third schoolmate at the Byron Steele High School in Cibolo, Tex. Kansas said it had confirmed two on Saturday. Officials said they expect to find many more cases as they begin testing for them.

The eight Queens students were positive for an A-strain flu virus but negative for all previously known A-strains. That result, called “A-untypeable,” led officials to suspect it was the new swine flu.

Mr. Skinner said the C.D.C. would send a team to New York, as it has to California, Texas and Mexico, if it were requested.

New York has one of the most sophisticated health departments in the world, but the C.D.C. can assist by releasing supplies from the National Strategic Stockpile. Huge quantities of Tamiflu, masks, gloves, purifying gel, ventilators and other goods useful in a flu crisis are kept in warehouses around the country and can be moved out in a matter of hours, Mr. Skinner said.

In Texas, Byron Steele High School and all its extracurricular activities were closed “to reduce the risk to students, staff and the community,” said Dr. Sandra Guerra, a regional director for the state health department. She urged students not to hang out together anyway as “that would defeat the purpose.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked the C.D.C. to send 37,430 doses of Tamiflu.

According to one expert involved in telephone discussions about flu preparedness Saturday, there was debate among officials about whether to move some of the stockpile closer to Texas and California. Presumably, that will be made moot by indications that a mild form of the flu may have already spread elsewhere in the nation.

The C.D.C. did not raise the alert level in the United States, which is officially at zero because there have been no human cases of H5N1 avian flu here as there have in Asia and Egypt.

C.D.C. scientists are working on a “seed strain” for a vaccine matched to the new swine flu, but warned that it would take many months before enough doses for all Americans are ready.

They are also creating test kits for 140 American labs and dozens of international ones to allow them to test for the new flu. Right now most labs can only exclude other flus, not confirm the new one.

In each year’s flu season, most deaths are in infants and the aged, none of the first ones in Mexico were in people over 60 or under 3 years old, a W.H.O. spokeswoman said. When a new virus emerges, deaths may occur in healthy adults who mount the strongest immune reactions. Their own defense – inflammation and leaking fluid in lung cells – can essentially drown them from inside.

There are various steps under the federal pandemic plan, including putting emergency rooms and first-responders on alert, making sure they have seasonal flu shots and putting them first in line for any early batches of a swine flu vaccine.

The 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic came in waves – a first summertime one was mild, then a severe one hit the following winter. By some accounts, a third milder but still serious wave hit cities that had done the best jobs of protecting themselves from the second wave.

However, as experts note, in 1918 there was no Tamiflu, no antibiotics to fight pneumonia, and no powered ventilators.

{NewYorkNow/NY Times/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I beleive 100% to close up the borders. The flu hast most probably entered this country because of illegal immagrants. Waves? Please! That sounds rediculous for this type of flu. If they havent realized, the new flu reached Texas and California, which are at the border and have a huge Spanish population.