by Xinhua Writer Wang Jiangang
NEW YORK, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Coughing, sneezing and
nose running, an increasing number of primary and middle school students in New
York City are suffering from flu-like symptoms and missing classes, which made
parents concerned and the city officials close schools with high absentee rates.
The A/H1N1 flu, which was first detected in New York
City in late April, has so far sickened 240 people with confirmed infection of
the flu virus, 56 of whom have been hospitalized.
However, the hearts and thoughts of all New Yorkers
go to tens of thousands of school children, as the city's 36 public and private
schools with large number of sick students have already been closed over the flu
On April 24, New York City Department of Health and
Mental Hygiene (DOH) dispatched a team of investigators to St. Francis
Preparatory School, a private, independent Catholic college preparatory school
in Queens Borough, after 150 students complained of symptoms consistent with
H1N1 flu. Several of the students had recently traveled to Mexico. Eight of the
school cases were said to be "probable" H1N1 flu by New York City Health
Commissioner Thomas Frieden on April 25. On April 26, in an advisory the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that the Queens cases are indeed
associated with the H1N1 virus. On April 27 federal officials confirmed 20 new
The news has made a citywide ripple among parents.
Shortly after that, all schools began distributing ABCs of H1N1 flu to students
and parents, which, to some extent, made parents even more worried.
On May 12, a teacher at I.S. 5, who prefers to be
anonymous, told Xinhua, some 12 percent of the students were absent from their
classes the previous day. She said many students were coughing, sneezing and
nose running while studying in the classroom.
"I am worried and wander if I should call in sick
myself," she said.
"If the school does not close, I guess I will be sick
myself very soon, as the classroom is small and H1N1 flu virus could be spread
easily through aerosol transmission and small droplets," she said. "Besides, the
kids don't know how to protect themselves and can be infected very easily."
She began consulting her doctor and bought some
medicines including TamiFlu which are believed to be effective in preventing and
treating H1N1 flu.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally ordered the closing
of I.S. 5 in the aftermath that 241 student were absent.
Over the past few days, New York City has been
enouncing daily the closings of schools which it thought not good for school
children to continue their studies.
While in the emergency unit of Elmhurst Hospital
Center in the most flu-hit Queens, sick students and worried parents are lining
up in long queues waiting to see the doctors these days. Many of the sick have
begun wearing masks to avoid being infected or vice versa.
SEASONAL FLU VIRUSES
ATTACKING NEW YORK CITY
Are all the school children suffering from flu-like
symptoms already infected by H1N1 flu virus? Experts do not think so.
"Right now as New York moves from winter into spring,
we always see increases in respiratory infections," Joan E. Nichols, an
infectious disease expert with the University of Texas Medical Branch told
Xinhua. "Not all of these infections are H1N1 and as we survey the population,
most have been shown to be flu A (seasonal) or flu B (seasonal) and not H1N1."
Nichols believes that New York City is seeing
seasonal flu combined with H1N1 and other viruses. "H1N1 is not the only reason
we are seeing increases."
Although parents with sick children understand their
kids are not in "very bad conditions," they still wonder if the children's
illness could be turning worse if they continue sending them to schools in an
environment with many coughing and sneezing classmates.
"I don't know what to do," said a parent outside a
private hospital in Queens. "My kid has not recovered fully since she was
falling ill seven days ago, so I have to bring her to the doctor to see if she's
got the swine flu (H1N1) virus or others."
"I guess she's been infected by some other kind of
virus, but what is that?" he asked. "Doctors say viruses can evolve. I don't
want to send my kid to school in case the viruses evolve, mix with each other
and form a new fatal virus."
In order to monitor the flu situation, the city's
Health Department and the Department of Education are working closely to monitor
flu-like illness in schools. This information is collected timely 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.
The United Federation of Teachers of New York has
reportedly set up 11 hotlines in the five boroughs of the city to gather
information on school flu outbreaks and school closings.
The New York Department of Education is now posting
daily attendance rates for every public school in the city.
The Department of Education announced Wednesday that
it would begin posting daily attendance numbers for every public school in the
city on its website.
However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the decisions
to close individual schools are not based on absenteeism, and the city's Schools
Chancellor Joel Klein described in a letter to parents how the city decides to
"We're posting now the absentee rates on the
Department of Education website, but it doesn't really tell you anything," said
Bloomberg. "The real issue is how many people are showing up in school with
fever and that tends to be very low and people should be sending their kids to
school if the kids don't have symptoms."
The mayor said the city also considers the severity
of the flu in each community by monitoring hospitals.
Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, who has already
been hand-picked by President Barack Obama to chair the CDC but is continuing
working in New York to deal with the tense situation, looks for "clusters" of
illness, as well as a spike in the number of students with fevers over 100.4
degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celcius) and other flu symptoms.
Officials said more 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.
However, city leaders have responded to mounting
criticism of how officials are going about deciding when to close schools in the
wake of the H1N1 outbreak over the past few days.
CITY LIFE SEEMS TO BE
Although school closings in the city have been much
talked about and drawn much concern from New Yorkers, city life seems to not be
Tourists, both from domestic and foreign, seem not to
decrease so sharply and continue pouring into the city. Shops and restaurants
are still flooded with shoppers and customers. People wearing masks are almost
nowhere to be seen in the streets.
"The swine flu virus is not that dangerous as SARS
like you experienced in China in terms of death rates, so we don't have to worry
too much," said Pete Hankerson, a New Yorker who was shopping at the Fifth
Avenue of Manhattan.
"Of course, we must take good care of ourselves and
our children as they study together, play together, tease each other and even
share food with each other without any awareness or sense of the illness," he
"I hope the damn virus leaves us soon as I don't want
to hear too much hyper about the swine or avian flu viruses," he said.
However, parents with schooling children still seem
no to relax their vigilance with many saying their children must be "caged" at
home to "escape any unexpected danger."