Swine Flu Moving Slowly: NY Officials

After a week of looking, New York health officials have found few signs that the outbreak of swine flu here is spreading beyond a few pockets or getting more dangerous.

Almost all the cases so far still involve people with a connection to one high school in Queens, where a health survey released Friday revealed that more than 1,000 students, parents and faculty members reported coming down with flu symptoms over a few days in April.

But after that alarming fast start, during which illness swept through a third of the student body at the St. Francis Preparatory School, there have been only a handful of new infections anywhere in the state.

Only eight kids at St. Francis have reported any new illnesses since April 26. Almost all the sick are recovering, or already well. The school is scheduled to reopen Monday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the illness so far proved to be "a relatively minor annoyance," although he cautioned that even the seasonal flu that arrives in the city each year kills around 2,000 people, most of whom are either elderly or have compromised immune systems.

"People that have it seem to be getting over it pretty easily," Bloomberg said.

The official tally of people who have conclusively tested positive for swine flu stood unchanged Friday at 49 in New York City and one elsewhere in the state.

New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines said Friday that authorities have identified additional probable cases, almost all among people who had some connection to travel in Mexico or to St. Francis. None of those people are seriously ill.

Those additional "probable" cases include 33 in New York City and 13 others in Nassau, Lewis, Orange, Westchester, Monroe, Chautauqua, Cortland and Suffolk counties.

The number of suspected cases in New York City fluctuated Friday, as health officials said they were checking out five more probable infections, but also reported that a recently hospitalized Pace University student thought to have the illness actually had a garden-variety strain of the flu.

The true number of people with the infection is unknown and may not become clear anytime soon. New York City health officials said they had no plans to do broader testing to confirm how many of the 1,000 sickened in the St. Francis Prep community actually had swine flu, saying it would provide little new information or change treatment.

The city's survey of students and faculty at the school provided some clues Friday as to how the virus is spreading.

Of the 1,996 students who responded to the survey, 659 said they developed flu-like symptoms, with most falling ill between April 22 and April 26. Six of those students had recently traveled to Mexico.

About one in three sick students reported that someone else in their household was also ill. The number of sick teachers was much smaller. Only 23 of the 210 staff members who responded to the survey said they had been sick with the flu since April 8. One of those staffers had recently traveled to Mexico.

The school's principal, Brother Leonard Conway, reassured parents on Friday that it was safe to send their healthy children bak to class when the school reopens after a weeklong closure.

"Things are looking very good" he said, adding that the campus had received a "full scrubdown" that included opening doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate and flushing the air conditioning system.

"There is nothing to worry about," Conway said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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