New York City has closed three schools in response to a swine flu outbreak that has left one staff member in critical condition and sent hundreds of kids home with flu symptoms, in a flare-up of the deadly virus that sent shock waves through the world last month.
A Health Department spokeswoman tells The Associated Press that four students and the staff member have tested positive for swine flu at a middle school in Queens. At another middle school in Queens, 241 students were absent Thursday. Dozens more were sick at an elementary school.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg scheduled an evening news conference to discuss the outbreak.
New York City's first known cases of swine flu appeared in late April, when hundreds of teenagers at a Roman Catholic high school in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico, where the outbreak began.
At first the virus appeared to be moving at breakneck speed. An estimated 1,000 students, their relatives and staff at the St. Francis Preparatory School fell ill in a matter of days.
City health officials became aware of the outbreak April 24. The school closed and health officials began bracing for more illnesses throughout the city.
But the outbreak then seemed to subside. Additional sporadic cases continued to be diagnosed, but the symptoms were nearly all mild. The sick children recovered in short order, and St. Francis reopened after being closed for a week.
Health officials in New York and elsewhere said that the virus, at least in the U.S., appeared to pack no more serious a punch than the seasonal influenza viruses that arrive each winter.