Swine Flu Grows in NYC


swine-fluAs the number of swine flu cases in New York City continues to grow, local hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed with worried patients. This is what it’s come to: flooded emergency rooms, masks worn out on the street and parents concerned their children are at risk of catching the new H1N1 strain. An overreaction? That’s debatable. What we do know is that Queens Hospital has an emergency overflow triage tent set up to handle hundreds of cautious, slightly sick patients.”All the patients we’ve seen have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all,” said Dr. Livia Santiago of Queens Hospital.

They’re rattled by Monday night’s death of 16-month-old Jonathan Zamora Castillo, who died after suffering flu-like symptoms.

But health officials now say initial tests show the child did not have swine flu. A Department of Health statement released Tuesday night said the tests were performed on nasal swabs taken from Castillo. It said tissue samples were sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further analysis and results are expected this week.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said doctors don’t know what killed the toddler, who was born in the United States to Mexican parents, but he noted the boy’s 3-year-old sister had been sick with flu-like symptoms.

“What we do know is that a child is dead, and it is very tragic, regardless of what caused it,” Bloomberg said while briefing reporters earlier Tuesday.

It was unclear if the boy or anyone in his family had recently visited Mexico, where thousands of people have been sickened by the virus and 74 have died.

A spokesman for the Mexican Consulate said it was in contact with the family and likely would help to fly the boy’s body back to his parents’ homeland for burial.

Bloomberg meanwhile remains optimistic, especially given this weekend’s holiday weather forecast.

“If you get through the next couple days, the warm weather, typically seems to inhibit the spread of it,” said Bloomberg on Tuesday. “The good news is we’re coming up to a warm weather period, according to the forecasters, and also we’re going to have a three day weekend, which may or may not help.”

A funeral is scheduled today for the city’s first confirmed swine flu death. Services for Mitchell Wiener, an assistant principal at a Queens public middle school, will be held at the Sinai Chapels funeral home in Queens.

Meanwhile, swine flu has appeared to solidify its foothold in the city’s huge jail complex on Rikers Island. Four inmates had confirmed cases, and at least four more had probable cases, Bloomberg said.

The mayor said authorities won’t evacuate the complex, which houses about 13,400 prisoners, but steps are being taken to try to prevent the illness from spreading, including isolating the sick, questioning new inmates about their health and making hand sanitizer widely available.

Meanwhile, the list of schools closing as a result of the swine flu continues to grow. On Tuesday night, three more schools were added to the list, bringing the list to 26 in the city.

The latest schools to join the list are:

* P.S. 130 (Fernando De Soto, 1,081 students), in Lower Manhattan. A total of 76 students were documented with influenza-like illness during the last six school days.

* P.S. 35 (Nathaniel Woodhull, 615 students), in Hollis. A total of 32 students were documented with influenza-like illness during the last seven school days.

* Merrick Academy Charter School (495 students), in Jamaica. A total of 19 students were documented with influenza-like illness during the last two school days.

All three will be closed effective today.

Earlier on Tuesday, private schools in the Bronx and a parochial school in Queens added their names to the list.

The Horace Mann School in Riverdale said in an e-mail to parents that it will close at the end of the day Tuesday and reopen on May 26. The e-mail says lots of students have been going home with the flu, though no one has tested positive for swine flu.

The South Bronx Charter School in Mott Haven will also shut its doors beginning Wednesday and remain closed through May 26.

Bloomberg also announced the closing of St. Joseph’s Parochial School in Queens, where 150 kids were out sick on Monday.

Symptoms of the swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting as well. Anyone experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek health care and treatment. The best way to prevent additional cases of flu in schools is to stay home when sick, cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and wash hands frequently.

For those who are ill, the recommendation is to stay home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.

{WCBS-HD/Elisha Ferber-Matzav.com Newscenter}