Chicago blue over confirmed swine flu

By Bethany Reinhart

City and state officials have banded together and are taking all necessary precautions by keeping up with the latest information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to combat the onset of swine flu after the discovery of at least nine probable cases of the virus in Chicago. As of May 1, three cases have been confirmed.

News of the outbreak in Chicago came as a North Side elementary school was shut down on April 29 after a 12-year-old student tested positive for a probable case of swine flu. Kilmer Elementary School, 6700 N. Greenview Ave., was the first reported school in Chicago to close in response to probable swine flu. Mayor Richard M. Daley said the school closure was a “preventative measure.”

On the same day Kilmer Elementary was closed, representatives from the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert level to five, its second-highest level on a six-point scale.

In an April 29 press conference, Dr. Damon Arnold, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said initial testing done by the Illinois Department of Public Health to confirm probable cases of swine flu have a 99 percent accuracy rate. After initial test results are obtained, samples are sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further testing and final confirmation.

Symptoms of swine flu are similar to that of the regular flu virus and include fever, sore throat, cough, body aches and pains, chills, and in some cases, nausea and vomiting, Arnold said.

In response to the growing outbreak, Chicago officials stand ready to provide residents with all available resources. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued a Gubernatorial Proclamation on April 28 that allows for the mobilization of all state assets, deemed necessary by the governor, to ensure the distribution of medical supplies and other resources to residents of Illinois.

According to a statement released by the Illinois Department of Public Health, U.S. Health and Homeland Security officials have released 25 percent of the country’s Strategic National Stockpile to be released to states. Included in the Strategic National Supply are antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza, which are used to treat swine flu, as well as surgical masks, gloves and gowns.

Quinn said supplies are being sent to

Illinois, repackaged into smaller shipments by members of the Illinois National Guard and distributed to local hospitals and medical facilities.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Mason said the outbreak in Chicago was anticipated in both the city and suburbs because the swine flu strain has proven to be easily transferred from human to human.

“We expect the number [of cases] to increase in the days, weeks and months to come,” he said.

Mason stressed the importance of prevention and said people should do things to boost their immune systems, such as eating fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep.

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Jeff Lyon, a science and medical writer and Columbia adviser, said one of the key traits of the flu virus is its ability to mutate. Lyon said the flu virus mutates even more than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The likelihood of mutations in the swine flu virus is one of many concerns facing medical experts.

Lyon said at this point it is too early to recognize the full scope and reach of swine flu as it is a new virus that poses entirely new challenges. The new virus, known as H1N1, is a hybrid of swine, avian and human strains. Cases of swine flu first appeared in Mexico City and surrounding areas but have quickly spread into the United States and around the world. As of press time, 331 cases of swine flu have been confirmed worldwide. More than 400 additional cases are being investigated. Though deaths have been confirmed in both Mexico and the U.S., government and medical officials are still working to determine how many deaths are related to the virus.

For more information about the swine flu outbreak in Chicago, visit