A Jewish educator in New York has died from complications of swine flu, as city officials moved to contain the spreading virus by closing schools in Queens and Brooklyn where students and teachers have come down with flu-like symptoms.
Mitchell Wiener, 55, an assistant principal in Queens, New York, died on Sunday night at Flushing Hospital Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said. He was admitted to the hospital about a week before he died, and failed to respond to medication, including anti-viral drugs.
It was the first fatality in New York City linked to swine flu.
As they expressed their condolences to Wiener's family, city officials announced the closure of three school buildings in Queens, where 105 students have developed influenza-like symptoms. Last week, the city closed six other schools in Queens and Brooklyn after documenting one case of swine flu and receiving reports of scores of other flu-like illnesses.
"We are now seeing a rising tide of flu in many parts of New York City," said New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden. The school closures were meant to slow the transmission of the flu, he said. "Our primary goal is to reduce the number of people who get seriously ill from the flu."
As of Monday, the World Health Organization reported 8,829 cases of swine flu since April. Seventy-four deaths have been linked to the H1N1 virus, as the virus is known.
New York City's first outbreak of swine flu occurred on April 23, when several hundred students, teachers and others associated with Queen's St. Francis Preparatory school, the largest private Catholic high school in the US with 2,700 students, became ill. Since then, officials have shuttered school buildings amid reports of illness, touching off mild alarm among some New Yorkers.
"It's real. We have many, many more patients coming into our emergency room, especially our pediatric emergency room," said Dr. Nathan Litman, the director of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. "Many are mildly ill children. Parents are simply worried maybe this is something bad."
City officials have said Wiener may have had underlying health problems that made him susceptible.
He was first hired in 1978 and taught math until 2007, when he was named assistant principal of Intermediate School 238, the Susan B. Anthony Intermediate School in the Hollis neighborhood. "He was a well-liked and devoted educator, and his death is a loss for our schools and our city," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Wiener also was an active member of the Garden Jewish Center in Flushing, Queens, according to the synagogue's rabbi, Rabbi Martin Cooper. "He was treasurer of our synagogue until a couple of years ago," said Cooper, who called Wiener "warm" and "a good guy all around."
The rabbi said that while Wiener's wife, Bonnie, served on the synagogue's board for a time, Wiener took an interest in the youth program. In recent years, the family became less active in the congregation. "It's really quite a tragedy," said Cooper. "We're very, very upset. Very sad."
Meanwhile, Wiener's wife lashed out at municipal officials for not closing the school sooner and for assuring her that there were no cases of swine flu.
At a news conference on Monday, Bloomberg announced changes at the city's health department after Frieden was named head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. Dr. Thomas Farley, an infectious disease specialist, will become health commissioner, starting on June 8.
"My top priority starting right out is H1N1," Farley said at a news conference at city hall.