Cleaners scour suspected swine flu school

Cleaners scrubbed every desk, chair and classroom at a New York high school, infected students wore surgical masks as they recovered in their beds, anxious parents woke their children at night to check their temperature.

Swine flu has been confirmed in at least 20 people in the US, in New York, Kansas, California, Texas and Ohio. Many of the victims had recently visited Mexico. The federal government declared a public health emergency to respond to the outbreak.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that many victims were recovering, but that some family members of students also had flu symptoms, “suggesting it is spreading person to person.”

Governor David Paterson said 1,500 treatment courses of the antiviral Tamiflu had been sent to New York. Infectious-disease specialists, epidemiologists and disaster preparedness workers have been dispatched to New York to monitor and respond to possible flu cases.

The school where cleaners moved in, St Francis, had a group of students recently return from Mexico. It is the largest private Catholic high school in the US with 2,700 students. It cancelled classes on today and tomorrow in response to the outbreak.

Principal Brother Leonard said cleaners sanitised the school during the weekend, using heavy-duty disinfectant on desks, chairs, labs, offices and classrooms.

School officials realised something was wrong last Thursday when about 75 students showed up at the nurse’s office complaining of fevers, upset stomachs and achy bones. The overwhelmed nurse’s office had to make students wait on chairs in the hall.

The school notified the city Health Department, and more students became sick on Friday. Many were taken to a nearby hospital, but none had to be admitted.

Students began falling ill after a group of friends returned on April 19 from holiday in Mexico.

In Ohio, a nine-year-old boy was infected with the same strain suspected of killing dozens in Mexico, authorities said. He had visited several Mexican cities on a family holiday.

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