The first public announcements were made in Dallas, but New York City was the nation’s epicenter. On Oct. 19, an official of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked reporters in Washington to “be alert and prepared” for reports of Americans falling ill. In Boston, Dr. George Amadeo told residents in a public telephone address to be alert to any unusual symptoms — a five-day period that ended with Boston’s deadliest case.
Doctors initially reported no fatalities from the strains of swine flu. Five people died, however, and 641 patients were diagnosed with swine flu in the United States. It was a revelation that came late in the epidemic. At first doctors and federal health officials failed to recognize the severity of this swine flu because it seemed to affect more healthy people than expected. As the flu season began, doctors suspected they were not anticipating the possible consequences of a mild pandemic.
A pestering public health reporter asked whether the CDC was anticipating that a second wave of flu might arrive a few weeks later in January. Dr. Amadeo replied: “Well, I will have an answer for you at the next weekly report.” The report never came. It was in early February, but it had been two months since the CDC, then with the understanding that another round of flu might be on the way, publicly advised against being sick. A second wave that did arrive was an 8-year-old Texas girl. It could be imagined that such a warning by the CDC would not be circulated widely.