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

May 8, 2009

In the two weeks since the first cases of H1N1 (swine flu) were reported in New York State, Governor Paterson marshaled a comprehensive health emergency response to the possibility of a severe H1N1 outbreak statewide.

Because of Governor Paterson's quick action, the State Department of Health (DOH) immediately activated its Health Emergency Preparedness Plan, and during these two weeks we have determined that the H1N1 outbreak has not produced widespread infections or severe symptoms.

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

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.

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, DOH will begin monitoring and reporting on the virus as it does for seasonal influenza.

This will be the last daily briefing, but DOH will reconvene briefings as necessary to update the public on any significant issues that may arise.

On Thursday, DOH's Wadsworth Laboratories performed tests on recently obtained specimens from 20 individuals, including two repeats from the prior day. The tests resulted in one new case of H1N1 outside of New York City, involving an individual who resides in Onondaga County. This individual has a known link to the Ed Smith School, which had a case that we reported earlier.

Nine specimens were positive for seasonal influenza A, eight were negative for any type of flu, and one was inconclusive and requires additional testing. Another case is currently undergoing further investigation.

I want to note that testing at Wadsworth Laboratories has identified only one new case of H1N1 outside of New York City on recently collected specimens from the last five days.

At this time, I also want to mention that our Wadsworth Laboratories tested 83 specimens for seasonal influenza B, the other type of seasonal influenza that is circulating this flu season. Of these specimens, five tested positive for seasonal influenza B.

Testing for seasonal influenza B had been deferred because testing for H1N1 influenza was our highest priority. With the addition of these seasonal influenza B results, to date our total number of positive cases for seasonal flu is 61.

As I reported previously, on Monday Wadsworth Laboratories received a large batch of 102 specimens from the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System (North Shore-LIJ) for laboratory 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 older specimens underwent preliminary testing at North Shore-LIJ laboratories. The clinical needs of these patients were appropriately addressed.

The Department carefully sorted through the specimens to eliminate any that were duplications of testing previously performed and to identify the county of residence of these individuals.

On Thursday, we reported on specimens in that batch that involved individuals who reside in Nassau and Suffolk counties, resulting in eight cases identified in Nassau County and five cases in Suffolk County.

Today I have the results of New York City specimens in that batch, which include 75 patient specimens from New York City now confirmed with H1N1. Fifty of these 75 cases, or over 65 percent, have a direct link to the St. Francis School outbreak, and represent students and faculty there.

The remaining 25 cases involve children under high-school age and could represent siblings of the St. Francis students, but that cannot be fully determined until the epidemiological investigations are completed.

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 these individuals have fully recovered. However, we felt it important to brief you on the results of the large batch of older specimens from North Shore-LIJ, as these numbers when added to our current map graphic on our web site will indicate a rather substantial jump in the overall New York City cases.

At this point in the outbreak, reporting daily numbers of new cases is not important because the illness continues to be mild to moderate, similar to seasonal influenza. The numbers are also not particularly significant because they only represent lab-tested specimens, and many individuals with mild symptoms do not go to a physician or hospital, but instead, recover at home – as has been our advice for some time.

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

As I mentioned earlier, we are entering a new phase in our response to this outbreak, and Governor Paterson has asked that I only provide updates when there are important new developments.

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.