A strain of the flu has killed as many as 81 people and sickened more than 1,000 across Mexico, where authorities have extended school closures in the capital and two neighboring states with outbreaks. The World Health Organization chief said Saturday the strain has "pandemic potential" and it may be too late to contain a sudden outbreak.
Kansas health officials said Saturday they had confirmed swine flu in a married couple living in the central part of the state after the husband visited Mexico. The couple, who live in Dickinson County, were not hospitalized, and the state described their illnesses as mild.
Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, the state health officer, said, "Fortunately, the man and woman understand the gravity of the situation and are very willing to isolate themselves."
The man traveled to Mexico last week for a professional conference and became ill after returning home. His wife became ill later. Their doctor suspected swine flu, but it wasn't confirmed until flu specimens were flown to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A flu viruses, the CDC's Web site says. Human cases of swine flu are uncommon but can happen in people who are around pigs and can be spread from person to person. Symptoms of the flu include a fever of more than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.
At least nine swine flu cases have been reported in California and Texas. The new California case, the seventh there, was a 35-year-old Imperial County woman who was hospitalized but recovered. The woman, whose illness began in early April, had no known contact with the other cases.
The 11 U.S. swine flu victims range in age from 9 to over 50.
All recovered or are recovering; at least two were hospitalized.
Health officials are worried because people appear to have no immunity to the virus, a combination of bird, swine and human influenzas. Also, the virus presents itself like other swine flus, but none of the U.S. cases appears to involve direct contact with pigs, said Eberhart-Phillips, who called the strain "a completely novel virus."
"It appears to be able to transmit easily between humans," Eberhart-Phillips said. "It's something that could potentially become very big, and we're only seeing, potentially, the very beginning of a widespread outbreak."
New York health officials said more than 100 students at the private St. Francis Preparatory School, in Queens, had come down with a fever, sore throat and other aches and pains in the past few days. Some of their relatives also have been ill.
New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said nose and throat swabs had confirmed that eight students had a non-human strain of influenza type A, indicating probable cases of swine flu, but the exact subtypes were still unknown.
Samples had been sent to the CDC for more testing. Results were expected Sunday.
Parent Elaine Caporaso's 18-year-old son Eddie, a senior at the school, had a fever and cough and went to a hospital where a screening center had been set up.
"I don't know if there is an incubation period, if I am contaminated," Caporaso told the Daily News. "I don't want my family to get sick, and I don't want to get anybody else sick."
The symptoms in the New York cases have been mild, Frieden said, but the illnesses have caused concern because of the deadly outbreak in Mexico, where classes in Mexico City, neighboring Mexico state and the northern state of San Luis Potosi have been canceled until May 6 and where up to 81 deaths are suspected and 20 have been confirmed.
Frieden said that if the CDC confirms that the New York students have swine flu, he will likely recommend that the school remain closed Monday "out of an abundance of caution."
One factor, he said, is that the illness appears to be moving efficiently from person to person, affecting as many as 100 to 200 people in a student body of 2,700.
"We're very concerned about what may happen," he said, although he noted that the pattern of illness appeared different from in Mexico, where much larger groups of people have become much sicker. Overall, he said, flu cases have been declining in the city in recent weeks.
The school was being sanitized over the weekend but still was holding a reunion featuring cocktails, dinner and dancing for hundreds of alumni from as far back as 1939. A health department spokeswoman said the sanitization was just a precaution because it's not really the environment that passes the flu.
Alumna Joyce Kal, of the Class of 1979, said she wasn't worried about getting sick.
"I did think about it, but I didn't, you know, worry, because if it's the kids, I don't think it's going to linger," said Kal, a physical therapist from the Bayside neighborhood.
The city health department has asked doctors to be extra vigilant in the coming days and test any patients who have flu-like symptoms and have traveled recently to California, Texas or Mexico.
Investigators also were testing children who fell ill at a day care center in the Bronx, Frieden said. And two families in Manhattan had contacted the city, saying they had recently returned ill from Mexico with flu-like symptoms.
Frieden said New Yorkers having trouble breathing due to an undiagnosed respiratory illness should seek treatment but shouldn't become overly alarmed. Medical facilities in the part of Queens near St. Francis Prep, he said, had already been flooded with people overreacting to the outbreak.
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