When dozens of students at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows fell ill with flu-like symptoms towards the end of April 2009, that was the beginning of the swine flu scare in New York City.
Very quickly, across all five boroughs, flu fears shut down schools. And those that remained open had low attendance rates because parents did not want their children to get sick.
Many did get sick and about 100 people died from H1N1 in 2009. From the very young, like 11-week-old Steven Montanez, to adults, like 55 year old Mitchell Wiener, the assistant principal of I.S. 238 in Queens.
But this spring, talk of swine flu or H1N1 has been very subdued. That’s because the New York City Department of Health says H1N1 has not been prevalent and there are several reasons for this.
“This fall season was mild and that probably had to do with the fact that people got sick last spring and developed some immunity,” said Don Weiss, the Director of Surveillance for the Bureau of Communicable Disease. “The fact that the vaccine was available in October also helped.”
According to Weiss, the city monitors flu activity daily by looking at emergency room visits and the sale of Tamiflu, both of which are at normal levels.
“At the peak of the outbreak last year I think we were seeing 2500 visits a day at emergency rooms, when during non-flu season it was only about 100."
But according to health officials, H1N1 is still out there and this is not a good time to let your guard down. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 162 million doses of H1N1 vaccine produced, only 90 million doses have been administered. As vaccines expire, millions of doses will be destroyed.
Because swine flu is still prevalent in the southeastern states and in parts of the world including West Africa, Mexico, and Central America, the CDC recommends people continue to get vaccinated through the end of May.
“I think for normal healthy people they could probably get away with not having it, but for those who are at risk, like people with respiratory conditions or pregnant women, it could be a risky decision."