On Thursday, Scott Harper, an influenza expert at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was speaking at a symposium on H1N1 swine flu.  With 356 confirmed cases in the city, the recent pandemic has been striking close to home.  In fact, it recently struck his home.

The epidemiologist was talking about the city’s response to the outbreak at the New York Academy of Sciences, when he let slip the fact that his 9-year-old daughter was ill with swine flu.  Scientific American editor Christine Soares was seated in the audience and says “nobody blinked” as Harper casually recounted his all-too-personal experience with the virus.

Swine flu has killed four people in New York State, and hospitalized more than 100, including no more than 10 patients currently on ventilators in the city.* The outbreak seemed to be waning in recent weeks, but yesterday the city closed 6 additional schools, bringing the total to 13.  Harper has himself been popping up in the news media urging parents with sick children to stay home from school – and he’s apparently heeding his own advice.

“The big picture is not the number of deaths in any given city,” Harper told Newsday on Wednesday, “The big picture is how many cases are occurring.” *

A webcast of the symposium is slated appear on the NYAS website next week.  For more on swine flu read our in-depth report.

* Correction (5/29/09): These sentences were modified after the original posting.