Asst. Principal Is First NYC H1N1 Death

In this May 15, 2009 file photo, Anita Seeratan, 13, an 8th grader at the Susan B. Anthony middle school in Queens, N.Y., holds up a copy of the 2005 yearbook open to the page with the photograph of assistant principal Mitchell Wiener. A hospital official said Sunday May 17, 2009 that Mitchell Wiener has become the first New York City death linked to the swine flu virus.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File
A school assistant principal who was sick for several days with swine flu on Sunday became the city's first death linked to the virus.

Mitchell Wiener, who had worked at an intermediate school in Queens, died Sunday evening, Flushing Hospital Medical Center spokesman Andrew Rubin said.

Wiener had been sick for nearly a week before his school was closed on Thursday. He had been hospitalized and on a ventilator.

The city's first outbreak of swine flu occurred three weeks ago, when about 700 students and 300 other people associated with a Catholic high school in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Five more city schools will close Monday because of concern for swine flu, bringing the total to 11.

City health officials announced Sunday that four Queens public schools and one Catholic school would close Monday for up to five school days. Three of the public schools are in the same building.

Each school had students with flu-like illness last week.

There were no documented cases of swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, at any of the schools, said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The department is monitoring unusual clusters of flu cases as it works to stop the spread of the swine flu virus, she said.

Six schools were closed last week after hundreds of students became ill with suspected swine flu symptoms.

Besides Wiener, no one else in New York City has become seriously ill from the virus.

New York City's first outbreak of swine flu occurred about three weeks ago, when more than 1,000 teenagers at a Catholic high school in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico.

Japan Reports One-Day Explosion Of Over 70 New Cases, Mostly Teens

Health experts are looking very closely at the spread of swine flu among people in Spain, Britain and Japan, a WHO official said Sunday.

The swine flu epidemic is already expected to dominate the World Health Organization's annual meeting, a five-day event that begins Monday in Geneva and involves health officials from the agency's 193 member states.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan will reveal experts' recommendations on the production of a swine flu vaccine sometime at the meeting. Pharmaceutical companies are ready to begin production, but many decisions have to be made first - such as how much vaccine to make, how it should be distributed and who should get it.

Some experts say there's no question that a swine flu vaccine must be produced but WHO needs to discuss the issue with its members.

As of Sunday, the swine flu virus - which WHO calls the A (H1N1) virus - has sickened at least 8,480 people in 40 countries, killing 75 of them, mostly in Mexico.

Japan's health ministry confirmed dozens of new cases of swine flu in waves of announcements Sunday, prompting the government to shut down schools and cancel public events like Kobe's annual festival. By late Sunday, Japan's tally rose from five confirmed cases to 78 - many of them high school students who had not traveled overseas.

Most new cases involved students in the western prefectures of Hyogo and Osaka, and health officials said they were recovering in local hospitals or at home.

Customer service workers at stores, restaurants and train stations in those two regions immediately began wearing masks as a precaution.

"We have not determined how the virus spread in the region, and we are doing our best to track down the route of the infections and contain them," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said.

Japan had established strict quarantines at airports, but decided Saturday to focus on containing the domestic outbreak.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in-country transmission rates were a key factor in whether the global body decides to increase its pandemic alert level. Right now, the world is at phase 5 - out of a possible 6 - meaning that a global outbreak is "imminent."

"We already know about the UK and Spain, that they have a relatively high number of cases compared to other European countries, so by simple virtue of the fact that they have more cases they need to be kept an eye on," Hartl said in an interview with AP Television News.

"There seems to have been activity in the last few days in Japan so we need to watch that too," he said.

Spain and Britain have had the highest numbers of cases in Europe, reporting 103 and 101 cases respectively. Britain announced 14 new cases on Sunday - with 11 of those being transmitted in-country - people who had not traveled to Mexico or the United States but became infected from others who had the virus.

A pandemic could be triggered if the virus starts to be transmitted from person to person on a large scale outside the Americas, WHO experts have said. But it would have to jump among people outside schools, hospitals and other institutions that typically pass on such viruses quickly.

"We don't want to prejudge anything, but certainly this is something we are watching with interest," Hartl said of the weekend developments in Japan.

Chile, meanwhile, reported its first case of swine flu, a 32-year-old woman who had just arrived from the Dominican Republic. All passengers on the same Copa Airlines flight with her were being told to voluntarily stay at home for a few days.

WHO estimates up to 2 billion doses of swine flu vaccine could be produced yearly, although the first batches wouldn't be available for four to six months.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit WHO on Tuesday to meet with senior representatives from the vaccine industry, but the U.N. declined to name the companies.

Most flu vaccine companies can only make one vaccine at a time: seasonal flu vaccine or pandemic vaccine. Production takes months and it is impossible to switch halfway through if health officials make a mistake.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on a "seed stock" to make the vaccine, which should be ready in a few weeks. Until vaccine manufacturers get the seed stock, they won't know how many doses of vaccine they can make or how long that would take.

WHO is also negotiating with vaccine producers like GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Sanofi Pasteur to save some of their swine flu vaccine for poorer nations. Many rich nations - such as Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Switzerland and the United States - have already signed deals with vaccine makers to guarantee them pandemic vaccines.

A sense of urgency about preventing a swine flu pandemic helped Taiwan get an observer seat on the World Health Assembly, taking part in the meeting for the first time in 38 years.

"Taiwan and China are both part of the world community. We should fight this disease together," Taiwanese Health Minister Dr. Yeh Ching-chuan told reporters in Geneva.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing normally objects to Taiwan's participation in international organizations but relations have improved substantially over the past year.

WHO's health assembly will run through May 22, five days shorter than initially planned because health ministries are busy fighting the swine flu outbreak.