04/20/2010 12:18 PM
Last Year's H1N1 Flu Fears Seem Distant At St. Francis Prep
By: Kafi Drexel

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One year ago this week, the H1N1 flu virus was first identified in a private Catholic school in Queens, but now influenza is not the top concern at the site of the city's first official H1N1 outbreak. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.

As more than 2,600 students at St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens bust out double doors toward the end of a school day, it is pretty clear that they have spring fever. Yet at this time last year, many of these students showed a completely different type of fever.

"In the middle of Spanish, I was like, 'I really don't feel good,' and I had no idea. So I went to the nurse's office and they were like, 'All right, just go home,'" says St. Francis senior Ryan Bacci. "My dad picked me up and I went home and slept until Sunday."

The school had the first major cluster of H1N1/swine influenza cases in the city, after some students picked up the virus on a spring break trip to Mexico. As spring when on, H1N1 became a global flu pandemic.

"I think everyone had the thought in their mind, especially before spring break, you know, 'Is anyone going to Mexico this year?' But my math teacher actually went to Mexico and he said to was amazing," says St. Francis senior Amrita Sandhu.

St. Francis was the first of more than 60 schools across the city to temporarily shut down because of the new, unknown flu strain. Being the first at the center of the outbreak, St. Francis school nurse Mary Pappas was dubbed "Flu Hero" by the Queens Courier.

"We sent home 102 [students] the first day and 80 the next. I want to say there were about 49 confirmed cases, but probably many more," says Pappas.

According to health officials, H1N1 sickened more than one million New Yorkers and resulted in about 100 deaths from this time last year. While H1N1 activity picked up around other parts of the country in the fall, there was never a strong resurgence in the city.

"I think the vaccine did help in [preventing] a second wave, to be more like a normal flu season," says Don Weiss of the city Department of Health. "It may have been that we had so many people who were affected in the first wave that it made it difficult for it to catch on and become an outbreak again like it did in May and June of last year."

In the auditorium of St. Francis Prep a year ago, janitors were wiping down every seat in the house. Now, they are just getting ready behind me for the school's upcoming production of "The Little Shop Of Horrors."

However, St. Francis Prep is still prepared for the drama flu can bring. Purell pumps and health posters that line the halls to help prevent the spread of any type of virus will be here to stay