NEW YORK – At least five people were in U.S. hospitals with swine flu as the number of cases nationwide rose to 66 on Tuesday and a federal health official warned that deaths were likely.
Most of the nation's confirmed cases were in New York City, where the health commissioner said "many hundreds" of schoolchildren were ill with what was "most likely swine flu." The city announced 45 confirmed cases, all affiliated with a Catholic high school.
Richard Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that although ordinary human flu accounts for 36,000 deaths every year, he was concerned by this strain.
"I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection," Besser said at an Atlanta news conference.
New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said that hundreds of students at St. Francis Preparatory in Queens had developed symptoms consistent with swine flu, although many hadn't been tested to confirm it. Some students there recently went on a spring break trip to Mexico.
There were indications that the outbreak may have spread beyond St. Francis, with officials closing a school for autistic children down the road. Two suspected cases were hospitalized in New York, one has been released and the other is doing well, officials said.
"It is here and it is spreading," Frieden said. "We do not know whether it will continue to spread."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that 82 of 380 students at P.S. 177, a school for autistic children, have called in sick. A third school in Manhattan is being evaluated because students there are sick, Frieden said.
The CDC and states say the U.S. has 66 confirmed cases across six states, with 45 in New York, 11 in California, six in Texas, two in Kansas and one each in Indiana and Ohio.
At least five people have been hospitalized in the U.S., including three in California and two in Texas, Besser said.
The increase is not surprising. For days, CDC officials have said they expected to see more confirmed cases — and more severe illnesses. Health officials across the country have stepped up efforts to look for cases, especially among people with flu-like illness who had traveled to Mexico.
CDC officials also had warned that updates in the number of confirmed cases would at time be disjointed, as different states announce new information before the CDC's national count is updated.
A handful of schools around the country have closed over swine flu fears and some people are wearing masks, but it's mostly business as usual in the U.S., even at border crossings into Mexico.