Sons: Asst. principal 'very ill' with H1N1

May 15, 2009 10:24:20 AM PDT
Maintenance workers wearing masks scrubbed desks, floors and door handles on Friday in a swine flu outbreak that shut down three New York City public schools and left an assistant principal hospitalized in critical condition. Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said maintenance crews were thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting two middle schools and one elementary school in Queens where hundreds of students were sent home sick this week.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the school closures Thursday evening, saying four students and the assistant principal at the Susan B. Anthony middle school in Hollis have documented cases of swine flu.

The mayor said the assistant principal, Mitch Wiener, may have had pre-existing health problems - but on Friday, Wiener's son Adam said his father had only suffered previously from gout, which he said was unrelated to his current condition. He said his 55-year-old father is now suffering from pneumonia, kidney failure, dehydration and a lung infection.

"I don't know where people got that," Adam Wiener, 23, said Friday morning as he prepared to return to the hospital where the family was keeping vigil.

"The only pre-existing condition he has is gout, which is unrelated to complications he's experienced now."

It isn't unusual for flu cases to ebb and surge as the virus moves through a population during flu season. The virus tends to disappear as the weather gets warmer and more humid.

Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a deputy commissioner of the health department, said investigators are trying to learn more about why the disease has spread erratically.

Schools are a good incubator for illness in general, he said, because space is tight and youngsters often don't practice the best hygiene.

So far, the virus has not proved to be more infectious or deadly than the seasonal flu.

Adam Wiener said his father had been sick since at least last weekend with flu-like symptoms "but we didn't think anything of it." Then early Wednesday, he said, the family called 911 after his father began "hallucinating and wasn't coherent."

Wiener's case marks the most severe illness in the city since the city's first known cases of swine flu appeared in late April. At least five schools in the city were closed then, but all have since reopened. Officials say the students who have fallen ill in this latest surge of illness appear to be experiencing mild symptoms, similar to routine flu.

Bloomberg said the three schools - with more than 4,000 students altogether - would be closed for at least a week because "there are an unusually high level of flulike illnesses at those schools."

"There are documented cases of H1N1 flu at one of them," the mayor said, using the formal name for swine flu.

At the shuttered Walter Crowley middle school in the Elmhust section, a worker in a mask was seen mopping down the cafeteria on Friday. Police cars were parked outside the entrances, and a sign on the door said it was temporarily closed. At that school alone, 241 students were reported out sick with flulike symptoms.

New York City's first outbreak occurred 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.

An estimated 1,000 students, their relatives and staff at the St. Francis Preparatory School fell ill in a matter of days.

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.

The middle school with the confirmed cases is two miles from St. Francis.

People at the Susan B. Anthony school said students started going home sick on Tuesday and Wednesday, alarming parents.

Adam Wiener said his father has been mostly unconscious because of sedation since Wednesday evening, breathing with the help of a ventilator.

One of Wiener's 18-year-old twin sons, Jordan, said his father had been awake briefly and asked him about his leg, which he had injured playing baseball.

"He's always about his kids first," Jordan Wiener said Friday. "He was asking me how I was feeling and how my season's going."

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Associated Press Writer David B. Caruso contributed to this report.

RELATED INFORMATION:

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Additional swine flu resources
Transcript of 6abc.com's swine flu chat with local experts

RELATED LINKS:

CDC Swine Flu site
World Health Organization

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Swine flu cases around the world

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