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Swine Flu: Symptoms Remain Similar To Usual Flu

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Health Department updated the swine-flu situation in New York City, adding five new confirmed cases to the city-wide total. The new confirmations bring the city-wide total to 49. All 49 have had links to a known area of high transmission – Mexico or the St. Francis Preparatory school in Queens. Most have suffered only minor illness – and as far as is known, all of the affected people, including a 19-month-old child from Brooklyn, are recovering.

The agency also announced that it has identified five more probable cases of swine flu and sent specimens to the CDC in Atlanta for confirmatory testing. The new probable cases include two people who are associated with Public School Q177 in Queens, which closed this week after a number of children and some staff members reported flu-like illness. As indicated previously, siblings of students at St. Francis attend Q177, and the finding of probable cases was anticipated. Q177 will stay closed at least through the end of the week.

“The agency will continue to investigate possible clusters and monitor closely for signs of severe illness,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. “The Health Department continues to work closely with the Department of Education and non-public schools to identify any apparent clusters in schools. When appropriate, we will recommend closure of schools to reduce transmission.” The Department noted that information on swine flu is changing daily, and that as we learn more about it, we will better understand the most appropriate and effective way to respond.

Approximately a dozen students at Q177 developed fever in recent days. While the school has been closed, Health Department personnel visited homes of affected students and collected specimens from affected people for analysis. No additional illness has been reported from the community. If the student samples are confirmed at CDC tomorrow as anticipated, Q177 will be the second school with documented cases of swine flu. Probable person-to-person transmission has now been reported in Mexico, the United States and other countries.

The Health Department today collected tests from several students who attend a second parochial school in New York City and who were ill yesterday. No additional student became ill at this school today, and testing results should be ready late tomorrow.

The Health Department noted that there have been many incorrect rumors about swine flu. Physicians cannot diagnose swine flu because tests available to them cannot tell the difference between routine seasonal flu, which is continuing to make people sick in NYC, and swine flu. At present, only the Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory can determine if a case is probable, and only CDC can confirm it.

The symptoms of swine flu seem to resemble those of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting as well. New Yorkers experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek health care and treatment. Otherwise, the Health Department recommends at-home care.

The Health Department is advising physicians not to over-prescribe Tamiflu for patients with mild symptoms. Antiviral medications should only be used for people with severe illness and to treat swine flu (or prevent it in those exposed to confirmed or likely cases) among those at risk of complications from flu, such as young children, the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions. The Health Department will continue to work with medical providers to test flu patients who develop severe illness or are associated with clusters, but does not currently recommend testing for all flu patients.

Eating pork or pork products cannot spread swine flu. The most effective way to lower the risk is for people with fever and either cough or sore throat to stay home.

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* All New Yorkers should cover their mouths when they cough with their 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 close contact with sick people.

* Stay home at least 7 days if you have fever accompanied by cough or sore throat. Do not return until a day or two after your illness resolves.

* Stay away from clinics and hospitals unless you have severe symptoms.

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.

Flu epidemics evolve in unpredictable ways; it is impossible to know whether this one will dwindle, remain the same, or surge in coming weeks, and whether the illness will remain mild. Some severe cases are likely 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. For facts about influenza, and more information about swine flu, please visit the Health Department and CDC websites.