Some parents at a Manhattan private school pulled their kids out of class and others put masks on their children amid growing fears that the swine flu cases may continue to rise in the city.
Several parents at Ascension, a parochial school in Manhattan, pulled their kids out of class today while health officials investigated possible swine flu cases. The school remained open, but one parent told NBCNewYork.com that she took her child out of class because only three of the 21 students were in attendance.
School officials sent a letter to home to parents yesterday to assure them that no cases of swine flu have been confirmed, although seven children were sent home after complaining of fevers.
"Ascension School remains open and is considered a safe environment for our children," Principal Michael Lenahan wrote in a letter to parents.
President Barack Obama suggested that school closings may be necessary, in an escalating global health emergency that claimed the first death in the United States -- a 23-month-old Texas toddler.
"Every American should know that the federal government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to control this virus," Obama said.
Hundreds of school kids are ill with what is "most likely swine flu," New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden said Tuesday. "It is here and it is spreading," Frieden said. "We do not know whether it will continue to spread."
New York City has the largest number of swine flu cases in the U.S. -- at least 51 -- and city officials said Monday they expected the number of confirmed cases to rise among students, their relatives and at least one teacher from the Catholic high school, St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens.
In addition to the confirmed cases St. Francis, there are new cases being probed at PS 177, a school for autistic children in Queens as well as at Ascension, Frieden said. PS 177 has been closed and authorities are deciding whether to close the private school on 108th Street in the Upper West Side. Tests on the PS 177 students should be back tomorrow.
Outside of the schools, three New Yorkers have also been hospitalized with the illness in Suffolk, Orange and Cortlandt counties, according to New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines. The state is investigating 75 other people who are exhibiting symptoms.
"We'd be surprised if we didn't see more cases," said Mayor Bloomberg. Hundreds of people have mild symptoms and we could test them all and “we shouldn’t be surprised if they all come back positive,” the mayor added.
The number of cases nationwide rose to 91 on Wednesday, according to the CDC. The other known cases are one in Ohio, Kansas, Texas, California, Michigan, Indiana, Nevada, Arizona and Massachusetts.
Richard Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said although ordinary human flu accounts for 36,000 deaths every year, he was concerned by this strain.
"I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection," Besser said at an Atlanta news conference.
Pediatric deaths attributed to the normal flu strain are also common. Eight children died due to flu-related illnesses during the 2007 - '08 flue season, with another seven passing away this season, Daines said.
Health officials in New Jersey said they believe they have five probable cases of swine flu in people who recently traveled to Mexico and California. Those affected have mild forms of the flu and none has been hospitalized, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
The patients include residents of several counties, but officials have not released specific locations. Four recently traveled to Mexico; the fifth had traveled to California.
A local student sickened by the swine flu said she's already recovering, but added that officials there asked her to stay home from school the rest of the week as they clean the building and try to keep her classmates from getting ill.
"The first symptom was a cough and nausea, and then I just started getting really bad headaches," said Sophia Goumako, a senior at St. Francis Prep School, which re-opens on Wednesday.
Classmate George Koutsothanasis walked near the building today as he awaited his test results for swine flu. He started feeling symptoms last Thursday, including "fever, chills, and headache."
"After the fever I started sweating and my throat still kinda hurts and my headache hasn't gone away either," Koutsothanasis said. "My doctor prescribed me with Tamiflu not even 24 hours after the symptoms, so that's really helped me a lot. So no matter what kind of flu it is, I think I'll be fine."