Esti Lamonaca’s illness started with a high fever, a cough, and achy bones, just a couple of days after she returned from a spring break trip on the beach in Cancun with friends.
By the weekend, her voice was hoarse and she was wearing a surgical mask.
The 18-year-old senior is one of at least eight students at her New York City high school who health officials say have been sickened by a strain of swine flu suspected in the deaths of 103 people in Mexico. It has now spread to the United States, where authorities have confirmed 20 cases.
However, all of those sickened in the U.S. have recovered or are recovering. That’s a stark difference from the lethal outbreak in Mexico that authorities can’t yet explain.
Officials at Lamonaca’s school, St. Francis Preparatory in Queens, learned that something was wrong there on April 23 when students started lining up at the nurse’s office complaining of fever, nausea, sore throats, and achy bones. It wasn’t long before the line was out the door.
The nurse notified the city Health Department that day. On Friday, more students were getting sick, and the department dispatched a team to the school at about 1:30 p.m. But they got caught in traffic and didn’t arrive until 3:30 p.m., just as classes were letting out for the weekend, said Brother Leonard Conway, the school’s principal.
By then, there were only a few students left, and health officials quickly tested them for swine flu. While only eight cases are confirmed, more than 100 students are suspected to have been infected. Officials think they started getting sick after some students returned from the spring break trip to Cancun.
Cleaning crews spent all day April 26 scrubbing down St. Francis, which will be closed for days.
"I haven’t been out of my house since Wednesday and am just hoping to make a full recovery soon," Lamonaca said. "I am glad school is closed because it supposedly is very contagious, and I don’t want this to spread like it has in Mexico."
Some schools in Texas, California and Ohio also were closing after students were found or suspected to have the flu.
The U.S. government declared a public health emergency April 26 to respond to the outbreak, which also has sickened people in Kansas, California, Texas, and Ohio. Many of them had recently visited Mexico. Roughly 12 million doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu will be moved from a federal stockpile to places where states can quickly get their share if they decide they need it, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
The outbreak has people on edge across the country.
Officials along the U.S.-Mexico border asked health care providers to take respiratory samples from patients who appear to have the flu. Travelers were being asked if they visited flu-stricken areas.
In San Diego, signs posted at border crossings, airports, and other transportation hubs advised people to "cover your cough." At Los Angeles International Airport, Alba Velez, 43, and her husband Enrique, 46, were wearing blue face masks–purely as a precaution–when they returned from a trip to Mexico.
The Los Angeles couple hadn’t seen anyone sick while in Guadalajara but were nervous because of the stream of information about new cases. The two were wearing the masks because they’re "just cautious," Enrique Velez said.
It was a different story for travelers heading south of the border.
"I’m worried," said Sergio Ruiz, 42, who checked in for a flight to Mexico City after a business trip to Los Angeles and planned to stay inside when he got home. "I’m going to stay there and not do anything."
In Ohio, a 9-year-old boy was infected with the same strain suspected of killing dozens in Mexico, authorities said. The third-grader had visited several Mexican cities on a family vacation, said Clifton Barnes, spokesman for the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency.
"He went to a fair, he went to a farm, he went to visit family around Mexico," Barnes said.
The boy has a mild case and is recovering at home in northern Ohio, authorities said.
In New York, Jackie Casola–whose son Robert Arifo is a sophomore at St. Francis–said her son told her a number of students had been sent home sick Thursday and hardly anyone was in school Friday.
Arifo hasn’t shown any symptoms, but some of his friends have, his mother said. And she has been extra vigilant about his health.
"I must have drove him crazy–I kept taking his temperature in the middle of the night," she said.
Center for Disease Control Swine Flu Precautions:
There are everyday actions people can take to stay healthy
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze
• Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, because germs spread that way
Try to avoid close contact with sick people
• Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people
• If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them
Key developments on worldwide swine flu outbreaks as of April 26:
• Deaths: 103, all in Mexico. 22 confirmed as swine flu, 81 suspected.
• Sickened: 1,614 in Mexico, suspected or confirmed; 20 confirmed in U.S.; 6 confirmed in Canada; 13 suspected in New Zealand; 1 confirmed and 17 suspected in Spain; 1 suspected in France; 1 suspected in Israel; 1 suspected in Brazil.
• Locations in Mexico: 17 states, including Mexico City, Mexico State, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Baja California, and San Luis Potosi. Some, including Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Baja California, have tourist areas, but authorities have not said where in these states the outbreaks occurred.
• Locations in U.S.: 8 in New York, 7 in California, 2 in Kansas, 2 in Texas and 1 in Ohio.
• Safety measures in Mexico: In Mexico City, surgical masks given to subway passengers, public events canceled, schools and public venues closed, and church services postponed. President Felipe Calderon has assumed new powers to isolate infected people. World Bank is providing Mexico with more than $200 million in loans to help with the outbreak.
• Safety measures in U.S: Roughly 12 million doses of Tamiflu being moved from federal stockpile to be delivered to states. Travelers at border asked about travel to flu-stricken areas. St. Francis Preparatory School in New York City, where eight cases are confirmed, closed Monday and Tuesday. St. Mel’s Catholic School in Fair Oaks, Calif., closed until at least Thursday as officials investigate possible infection of seventh-grader. Fourteen schools in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District in Texas, including high school where two cases are confirmed, closed for at least the next week.
• Safety measures worldwide: Airports screening travelers from Mexico and United States for flu symptoms. China, Russia, Taiwan and Bolivia plan to put anyone with symptoms under quarantine. Hong Kong and South Korea warn against travel to Mexico City and three provinces. Italy, Poland and Venezuela advised citizens to postpone travel to affected areas of Mexico and the United States. Some countries increasing screening of pigs and pork imports or banning them outright.
Center for Disease Control Swine Flu Information