Boy's Death Not Swine Flu, But Tensions Still High

Photo: Younger Swine Flu Hospitalizations, Deaths Raise Questions: Experts Debate What to Do as New Cases Reveal Nature of swine flus threat.

Even as New York City health officials said the death of a 16-month-old toddler who had flu like symptoms did not have swine flu, the number of schools closed in the city because of the virus rose again.

As of this evening, there were 25 schools closed in the city, an increase of nine over Monday's count, and another school in New Jersey was shut down because of tensions about the new virus.

Jonathan Zamora, of Corona, Queens, was admitted to Elmhurst Hospital Center Monday night around 9:30 with a high fever and "severe flulike symptoms," according to a Tuesday morning announcement by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Officials at Elmhurst Hospital Center told The Associated Press that the boy died an hour after being admitted, but tonight officials said the boy appears not to have had H1N1 swine flu infection.

New York City has conducted tests that did not indicate that H1N1 swine flu was the cause of death, but a tissue sample has been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to confirm their results.

Bloomberg also said today that the flu is spreading at the Rikers Island prison complex, including four confirmed and four more probable cases. The jail can't be closed, but authorities are taking steps to contain the outbreak, he said.

The new tensions about the outbreak come just two days after the city's first confirmed death of a patient with swine flu. Meanwhile, amid a new cluster of school closings and revived discussions about whether the World Health Organization should raise the pandemic alert to the highest level, there is a new level of concern about the still mysterious swine flu virus.

On Monday, New York City officials closed 16 schools after 103 students in four schools came down with influenza-like symptoms in the past week. Late Sunday, 55-year-old assistant principal Mitchell Wiener died from complications of the swine flu he likely contracted in an outbreak at his school.

Wiener's untimely death was the sixth in the United States that has been linked to swine flu.

But while the American deaths and the outbreak's rapid spread across the country has raised fears, health officials said it's still not clear how bad swine flu really is.

"The illness severity that we're seeing is still similar to what we've seen with seasonal influenza," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Monday at a press conference. "I think our best estimate right now is that fatality is likely a little bit higher than seasonal influenza, but not much higher."

Despite that, the new virus may be contributing to higher than normal levels of flu infections in general for this time of year -- as well as more school-based outbreaks, which Schuchat said are unusual for spring time.

"About half of what we're seeing lately is the novel H1N1 strain," she said.

Mysteries surrounding the illness remain. Schuchat said that even with the climbing reports of cases, the overall numbers are not yet high enough to make solid conclusions about how severe this illness will be in terms of sickness and death.

"Things could change quickly, and we do continue our efforts to prepare for fall, where history tells us we could have another outbreak," she said. "I think it's important to dispel the idea that we're out of the woods or that this was a problem that really didn't merit response," she said.

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