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Two St. Francis Prep students who reside in Valley Stream and West Hempstead and a third student who attends Manhasset Public Schools with no travel history and no links to known clusters are the latest victims of H1N1, better known as swine flu.

All of these cases, according to the New York State Department of Health, had mild illness and are recovering. This is the latest information on the outbreak as of press time. According to the county's health department, this is a "rapidly evolving situation."

"We are urging all residents to be prepared, not scared," County Executive Tom Suozzi said.

On April 29, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan raised the current level of the influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5, based on "assessment of all available information and following several expert consultations."

"Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world," Dr. Chan said in a statement.

"On the positive side," Dr. Chan continues, "the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history."

She explains that preparedness measures undertaken because of the threat from H5N1 avian influenza were an investment.

"We are now benefiting from this investment. For the first time in history, we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real-time," Dr. Chan said. "New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behavior."

WHO is tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical and virological levels, Dr. Chan noted, urging countries to remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

The World Health Organization is reaching out to companies manufacturing antiviral drugs and to influenza vaccine manufacturers to contribute to the production of a pandemic vaccine, among other agencies.

"This change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and other ministries, to the pharmaceutical industry and the business community that certain actions should now be undertaken with increased urgency, and at an accelerated pace," Dr. Chan said.

"The biggest question, right now, is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start?"

In an April 29 letter to parents, Sewanhaka District Superintendent Warren Meierdiercks said students could continue attending school as long as they are not sick and do not think they have flu-like symptoms.

"We realize that many people are worried, and we hope this letter will help to address your concerns," Superintendent Meierdiercks wrote.

In the letter, he advises parents that flu-like symptoms include fever (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), feverishness, cough, sore throat, runny nose or stuffy nose. Additional symptoms, the superintendent wrote, may be experienced with swine flu, including muscle pain, fatigue and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea.

"If you suspect that your children are getting the flu, it is important that they do not attend school or go anywhere else-such as group childcare, the mall or sporting events-where other people would be exposed to flu germs. It is also important to teach your children how to reduce the risk of getting the flu and protect others from infection," Superintendent Meierdiercks stated.

Parents should teach their children to wash their hands often; properly use hand sanitizers; keep their hands away from their faces and avoid touching their mouths, noses, or eyes; cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or to cough into the inside of their elbows and discard tissues in the trash immediately after one use.

"Help your children to learn these healthy habits by setting a good example and following them yourself," Superintendent Meierdiercks states. "I urge each of you to reinforce these measures with your children. Please be assured that we, as a district, will do everything we can to keep your children safe and healthy."

The elderly population is also at great risk, according to the New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (NYAHSA). "If you're not feeling well, we're asking you to visit your doctor, not your dad in a nursing home or your grandmother who gets home care visits," Carl Young, New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging president, said. "Our nursing homes and senior services staffs are following strict infection-control programs, and the public's compliance will be of enormous help."

As the virus spreads, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths over the coming days and weeks.

The CDC has developed a PCR diagnostic test kit to detect the virus and has distributed test kits to all U.S. states and Puerto Rico. The test kits are also being shipped internationally.

"This will allow states and other countries to test for this new virus. This increase in testing capacity is likely to result in an increase in the number of reported confirmed cases in this country, which should provide a more accurate picture of the burden of disease in the United States," CDC officials state on their website.

Mary Ellen Laurain, director of the Nassau County Health Department's _Bureau of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention urges those who become sick to stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Red Cross officials advise residents to review and update their preparedness plans as health experts across the world seek to get more information and a better understanding of the scope and severity of the outbreak.

"This is a good reminder to prepare for life's emergencies. The Red Cross recommends you take this opportunity to prepare your family for any disaster by getting a kit, making a plan and being informed," American Red Cross officials state.

Governor David Paterson activated the state's health emergency preparedness plan to enable the appropriate agencies to quickly respond to the swine flu outbreak.

The New York State Department of Health continues to work closely and coordinate with the CDC and city and county health departments to address the possible spread.

"Because of effective planning, the department has been able to move swiftly to respond to this situation," New York State Health Department Commissioner Richard Daines said. "All influenza can be serious - and deaths can be expected."

On average each year, there are 36,000 seasonal influenza-related deaths in the United States, including approximately 2,000 deaths in New York.

For the latest information on the swine flu outbreak, residents should contact the Nassau County Red Cross chapter at 747-3500 or visit www.nassauredcross.org; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit www.cdc.gov/swineflu; or call the Nassau County Department of Health at (day) 227-9697 (after hours) 742-6154 or visit http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/.

Number of
Confirmed Cases
State-By-State
These are the most recent U.S. human cases of the H1N1 swine flu infection, as of press time:
States # of Deaths
laboratory
confirmed
cases
Alabama 4
Arizona 48
California 67
Colorado 17
Connecticut 4
Delaware 33
Florida 5
Georgia 3
Hawaii 3
Idaho 1
Illinois 122
Indiana 15
Iowa 1
Kansas 2
Kentucky* 2
Louisiana 7
Maine 1
Maryland 4
Massachusetts 45
Michigan 8
Minnesota 1
Missouri 2
Nebraska 4
Nevada 5
New Hampshire 2
New Jersey 7
New Mexico 3
New York 100
North Carolina 7
Ohio 5
Oklahoma 1
Oregon 15
Pennsylvania 1
Rhode Island 2
South Carolina 16
Tennessee 2
Texas 61 2
Utah 1
Virginia 3
Washington 9
Wisconsin 6
TOTAL (41)
645 cases 2 deaths

*Case is resident of KY but currently hospitalized in GA.

Courtesy of CDC


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