Statement from Richard F. Daines, M.D., Commissioner

May 7, 2009

It has been two weeks since the State Health Department (DOH) was first alerted to the possibility that the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak was extending into New York State. As you know, Governor Paterson quickly took action and directed DOH to coordinate the response to the outbreak and activate our Health Emergency Preparedness Plan.

Over the past two weeks, the Governor and DOH have provided daily briefings on the most recent developments and have closely monitored the spread of the disease and its effect on New Yorkers.

Although Governor Paterson asked us to be prepared to deal with the worst-case scenario, thankfully, while we have seen the disease spread in New York State, it has not produced widespread infections or severe symptoms.

On Wednesday, DOH's Wadsworth Laboratories performed tests on recently obtained specimens from 17 individuals. The tests resulted in no new cases of H1N1. Two specimens were positive for seasonal influenza, 12 were negative for any type of flu, and three were inconclusive and require additional testing.

It is important to note that testing at Wadsworth Laboratories has identified no new cases of H1N1 on recently collected specimens in the last three out of four days.

Additional testing of specimens obtained at various time points in the outbreak continues. On Monday, Wadsworth Laboratories received a large batch of 102 specimens from the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System (North Shore-LIJ) for confirmatory testing. These are specimens collected about 10 days ago when the outbreak in Queens connected to St. Francis Preparatory School was in the news. These specimens underwent preliminary testing at North Shore-LIJ laboratories. The clinical needs of the individuals were appropriately addressed.

Wadsworth Laboratories has completed confirmatory testing on some of these specimens. Working closely with the Nassau County and Suffolk County Health Departments, DOH carefully sorted through the specimens to ensure there were no duplications of testing previously performed and to identify the county of residence of these individuals.

Wadsworth Laboratories has identified 13 cases of H1N1 from the North Shore-LIJ specimens. Of those 13 cases, eight are in Nassau County and five are in Suffolk County. Yesterday's report from Nassau County included three of the eight Nassau County cases that DOH is reporting today. We will report on the remainder of the specimens tomorrow.

Because these specimens are from the first days of the outbreak in New York State more than a week ago, they do not indicate active cases, and we believe that these individuals have fully recovered. Symptoms of individuals confirmed with H1N1 in New York State to date continue to be mild to moderate, and we have identified no severe illness associated with the virus.

I think it is important to note again that testing of recently collected samples at Wadsworth Laboratories has resulted in no new confirmed cases on H1N1 in the last three out of four days.

As Governor Paterson has said, the outbreak of H1N1 in New York State continues to involve mild to moderate symptoms similar to seasonal flu.

Since we are not seeing an increase in the severity of illness in New York State, and the symptoms of H1N1 continue to be similar to seasonal flu, the State Health Department is moving in the direction of monitoring and reporting on the virus as it does for regular seasonal influenza.

At this point, reporting daily numbers of new cases becomes less significant because we know that there have been hundreds, if not thousands, more cases of H1N1 than what have been submitted to laboratories for testing, because many individuals with mild symptoms do not go to a physician or hospital but instead recover at home.

The focus of our monitoring and reporting going forward will be more on identifying new locations, trends, and patterns of the H1N1 virus, as well as watching for more severe illness. The test results from these North Shore-LIJ specimens will help us to better understand the early phase of the H1N1 outbreak in New York State and how it has spread geographically over time.

New Yorkers with questions about swine flu can call the DOH hotline at 1-800-808-1987. New York City residents should call 311.

More information and resources are available on the Department's Web site at www.nyhealth.gov/swineflu.