Background The public health response to pandemic influenza is contingent on the pandemic strain's severity. In late April 2009, a potentially pandemic novel H1N1 influenza strain (nH1N1) was recognized. New York City (NYC) experienced an intensive initial outbreak that peaked in late May, providing the need and opportunity to rapidly quantify the severity of nH1N1. Methods and Findings Telephone surveys using rapid polling methods of approximately 1,000 households each were conducted May 20–27 and June 15–19, 2009. Respondents were asked about the occurrence of influenza-like illness (ILI, fever with either cough or sore throat) for each household member from May 1–27 (survey 1) or the preceding 30 days (survey 2). For the overlap period, prevalence data were combined by weighting the survey-specific contribution based on a Serfling model using data from the NYC syndromic surveillance system. Total and age-specific prevalence of ILI attributed to nH1N1 were estimated using two approaches to adjust for background ILI: discounting by ILI prevalence in less affected NYC boroughs and by ILI measured in syndromic surveillance data from 2004–2008. Deaths, hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions were determined from enhanced surveillance including nH1N1-specific testing. Combined ILI prevalence for the 50-day period was 15.8% (95% CI:13.2%–19.0%). The two methods of adjustment yielded point estimates of nH1N1-associated ILI of 7.8% and 12.2%. Overall case-fatality (CFR) estimates ranged from 0.054–0.086 per 1000 persons with nH1N1-associated ILI and were highest for persons ≥65 years (0.094–0.147 per 1000) and lowest for those 0–17 (0.008–0.012). Hospitalization rates ranged from 0.84–1.34 and ICU admission rates from 0.21–0.34 per 1000, with little variation in either by age-group. Conclusions ILI prevalence can be quickly estimated using rapid telephone surveys, using syndromic surveillance data to determine expected “background” ILI proportion. Risk of severe illness due to nH1N1 was similar to seasonal influenza, enabling NYC to emphasize preventing severe morbidity rather than employing aggressive community mitigation measures.