In an age when people rarely read past the headline, here’s the sort of sloppy reporting that feeds mass hysteria.

The New York Times:

The swine flu outbreak in New York may have spread beyond one school in Queens — where victims now are estimated to number in the hundreds — to pockets across the city, including at least two other schools, officials said on Tuesday.

HUNDREDS OF VICTIMS IN ONE SCHOOL?

Unlike the majoruty of people, I read on

At Public School 177, a school for autistic children in Fresh Meadows, Queens, 12 students had fever or other symptoms that could indicate swine flu. The school, at 56-37 188th Street, which was closed as a precaution, is about half a mile from St. Francis Preparatory School, at 61-00 Francis Lewis Boulevard, where the first cases were detected several days ago.

So, “the hundreds” of victims weren’t in PS 177, so they must be at St. Francis Prep. St. Francis must be in Queens (it is), and THAT’S where those “hundreds” of victims of the swine flu must be then.

I read on.

About half a dozen children at Ascension School, a Roman Catholic school on 108th Street near Broadway in Manhattan, have come down with fever.

That’s not Queens, and that’s not “hundreds”…where are these “hundreds” of victims?

Two people in the Bronx, some suspected cases in Times Square and Columbia University.

Then finally, paydirt:

By Tuesday, 45 cases of swine flu had been confirmed in New York State, all of which were linked to St. Francis students or their parents, siblings, teachers and friends. An additional 32 cases from around the state are suspected of being swine flu. Officials believe that the flu spread rapidly through the 2,700-member student body at St. Francis, infecting hundreds of other students.

“Officials believe”?

Why don’t they know?

I left the Old Grey lady, and went for the Daily News online.

A 50-person private cleaning crew was working a 12-hour shift with sponges and buckets Sunday to sanitize St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows.

“We want to make sure the bug has totally gone away,” said Brother Leonard Conway, principal of the Catholic high school.

Eight of nine students tested for the potentially deadly virus have it, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed.

There’s your “hundreds”.

The Times should have taken greater care to report the facts of the story; They never substantiated their “hundreds” of victims claim. Nowhere on their piece is there a mention of the CDC testing the students at St. Francis.

We need concise, non-sensationalistic reporting on this issue. The goal being an informed public, not a panicked one.

But parents and city officials report that, for the most part, the more than 150 students who’ve fallen ill are showing only mild symptoms.

About a dozen students recently had returned from Mexico, where the virus has killed dozens and sickened more than a thousand – and on Thursday, scores visited the school nurse’s office, saying they felt ill.

Kudos to the Daily News for their level-headed approach to the St. Francis story.

Sadly, as I wrote this, the wires reported the first confirmed swine flu fatality in the US.

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