Swine flu and fear spread with new cases in the city

(Credit: Urbanite)

Sano Shinsuke wears a mask to protect from swine flu as he walks through Times Square after arriving on a flight from Japan Tuesday. Shinsuke said he feared catching the illness. (AP Photo)

By Marlene Naanes

A simple sneeze on the subway took on sinister overtones yesterday for New Yorkers rattled by the news that the city’s swine flu cases hit 44, with possibly hundreds of more residents infected.

As the threat grew more palpable, some New Yorkers and tourists began walking around in face masks. Three midtown pharmacies had sold out of the masks and experienced a heavy stream of hand sanitizer sales.

“I was just in the train, and people were coughing and sneezing,” said Sylvia Rivera, 52, a West Sider who said she'd probably buy a mask. “I would move away … I don't want to die. Every time people sneeze around me, I feel, ‘Do I have to run away?”

Driving the growing worry was news that a 2-year-old Bronx boy and a Brooklyn woman were hospitalized with suspected swine flu, as 35 other possible cases in Manhattan and Queens were being tested. Furthermore, “many hundreds” of students at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens may have the illness. All 44 confirmed city cases have been recorded at the Fresh Meadow school, which remains closed.A second Queens school, P.S. 177, which is near St. Francis Prep, has been closed as 12 students, some siblings of St. Francis students, are being tested. The spread of the disease across the country continued with 67 confirmed cases, including those in New York.

“I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection,” said Richard Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease originated in Mexico, where it killed scores of people. The confirmed cases in New York City are linked to travel there.

Officials at Duane Reade and Rite Aid said their stores saw a spike in demand of face masks, hand sanitizer and Tamiflu. The city health department recommends that people with flu-like illnesses don a face mask. But for some, there was no antidote to paranoia.

“You never know if someone on the subway has it,” said Candice Rubins, 22, of Brooklyn. “I try to avoid people I don't know” if they look sick.

Andrew Breiner, Newsday and the AP contributed to this report.

Tags: swine flu , fear , new york , mexico

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