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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Release # 028-09
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

CONTACT:
Jessica Scaperotti (DOHMH) - (212) 788-5290
Margie Feinberg (DOE) - (212) 374-5141


Health Commissioner Frieden and Schools Chancellor Klein Announce City Will Close Three More Schools in Response to Increased Flu-like Symptoms

More cases of illness expected in the coming days; New Yorkers with underlying, chronic health conditions reminded to seek medical attention if exposed to flu

May 19, 2009 – Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that the City Health Department has recommended closing three more schools – two in Queens and one in Lower Manhattan, for up to five school days after documenting unusually high and sustained number of influenza-like illness over a number of days. The three schools will be closed beginning Wednesday, May 20th.

The three schools 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.

Over the last five days, the city closed 15 schools in Queens (I.S. 238, P.S. 16, Q255, I.S. 5, JHS 74, P.S. 107, M.S. 158, Our Lady of Lourdes, I.S. 25, World Journalism Preparatory, Q233, P.S. 209, P9, P.S. 19 and P.S. 32) and one in Brooklyn (I.S. 318) after documenting confirmed cases of H1N1 at I.S. 238Q, and unusually high levels of flu-like symptoms in the other schools.  The Health Department continues to work with the Department of Education to assess the situation daily and make decisions regarding school closures on a case by case basis.

The Health Department and the Department of Education are working to monitor flu-like illness in New York City schools. This information is collected daily from school administrators and evaluated by the City's Office of School Health. If a school nurse reports a sudden or sustained increase in flu-like illness - documented fever accompanied by cough or sore throat - among students seen in a school's medical room, the Health Department may recommend closing the school.  Some schools will experience temporary closures in the coming days and weeks. Rather than using a simple rule to close schools, the Health Department is carefully evaluating the circumstances at each one. High absenteeism, by itself, is not a basis for closure.

The Health Department is seeing increased levels of influenza in many parts of New York City. We know that the new H1N1 (swine origin) virus is present in New York City, and all evidence suggests that it is causing a large proportion of the city's current flu cases. Except in special circumstances, the Health Department does not test people with flu to determine which type they have.

The main goal of the City's efforts is to protect those at high risk of complications from flu. That means ensuring that people with underlying risks for complications from the flu - such as asthma; emphysema or other lung disease; a compromised immune system; cancer; pregnancy; and diabetes -- receive antiviral drugs (Tamiflu or Relenza) if they develop flu-like illness. And it sometimes means closing schools where the flu appears to be spreading rapidly.

Symptoms of H1N1 (SO) include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting as well. Any New Yorker 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.

Eating pork or pork products cannot spread H1N1 (SO) flu. The most effective way to lower the risk of spreading the flu is for anyone with a fever, cough or sore throat to stay home. The City's Health Department urges everyone to continue taking these basic precautionary steps:

  • Cover your mouth when you cough, either with your sleeve or a tissue or handkerchief.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Try to avoid household or other close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with a fever, cough or sore throat, stay home for at least 24 hours after all of your symptoms are gone.
  • Stay away from clinics and hospitals unless you have severe symptoms, and notify your doctor or the clinic before you arrive, or as soon as you arrive, so that you can be appropriately isolated from others.

School and day care administrators, employers and managers of group living facilities should make sure to do the following to avoid the spread of illness:

  • Keep shared spaces clean and well ventilated.
  • Group living facilities should separate people who are sick.
  • Schools and employers should encourage those who are sick to stay at home, but should not require doctors' notices to let healthy people return.
  • Encourage hand washing and the covering of mouths when coughing. Educational posters are available on the Health Department's website in English, Spanish and Chinese at www.nyc.gov.

Influenza can evolve in unpredictable ways; it is impossible to know whether H1N1 will dwindle, remain the same, or surge in coming weeks, and whether the illness will remain mild. Some severe cases may occur, including in people with underlying risk factors, such as young children, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions. The Health Department is watching closely for signs of increased virulence.

UPDATE: The Health Department has conducted tests on nasal swabs from the child who died after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms Monday night These tests did not indicate H1N1 infection. Because the case was fatal, it is necessary to take extra steps to get definitive results. Tissue specimens taken on autopsy have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further analysis. Results of that analysis are expected later this week.

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