Swine Flu: 9 Probable Cases In Illinois, Chicago School Closed (VIDEO)
CHICAGO (AP) -- The swine flu outbreak reached into Illinois on Wednesday with the state reporting its first probable cases, shutting down at last three schools as public health officials warned people not to panic but asked them to take simple measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
The initial nine likely cases were mild and included three children and six adults in northern Illinois. The state awaited final confirmation from federal health officials, but early testing indicated a 99 percent chance the cases were swine flu.
"Ninety-nine percent is a hard number to beat," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon Arnold said at a news conference where Mayor Richard Daley, Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials stressed the state was working hard to prevent more people from getting sick.
A swine flu outbreak is spreading across the country and the world, where it is suspected of killing more than 150 people in Mexico. The first U.S. death was confirmed Wednesday when a 23-month-old child died in Texas.
All of Illinois' probable cases are in Chicago and its suburbs, with five in Chicago, two in Kane County and single cases in both Lake and DuPage counties. The youngest person sickened is age 6.
In an effort to try to stop the virus from spreading, three schools in Chicago and the suburbs that each had likely cases of swine flu closed.
Chicago officials shut down a North Side elementary school on Wednesday and a Kane County middle and high school closed down for the rest of the week.
The Chicago school was shuttered for at least two days and the district monitored attendance at all its other schools.
Chicago officials also have asked students at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School not to take part in citywide school activities for a short period of time because a 12-year-old girl there has a probable case of swine flu.
"We're not canceling anything at this point," said Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman.
In Kane County at Marmion Academy in Aurora, a Catholic boys high school where one case of probable swine flu was identified, extracurricular events were canceled, including a national competition in Florida for the ROTC drill team, said school headmaster John Milroy.
"This is something they worked for all year long," Milroy said, noting team members' disappointment.
Illinois officials say it's just a matter of time before there's an uptick in the number of local cases of people sickened.
"We expect these case numbers to rise in the next days, weeks and possibly months ahead," said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Terry Mason.
Swine flu concerns aren't only disrupting schools.
The Mexican Civic Society of Illinois has canceled a Cinco de Mayo event at Chicago's Navy Pier this weekend because of concerns about the flu, said spokeswoman Evelia Rodriguez.
Hundreds of performers and vendors planned to travel from Mexico, but some had trouble getting flights for the event that celebrates Mexico's defeat of a French army on May 5, 1862, Rodriguez said.
Despite the likely spread of the virus, officials don't want people to panic, asking them instead to pay attention to simple preventive measures like hand washing and covering their mouths when they sneeze and cough.
"If you're sick stay home and get better. Don't spread a cold or a flu at work, at school, at church, a store, a gathering, at the movies or anywhere else. Protect yourself and protect others," Mason said.
At the Chicago elementary school that was closed, nearly 96 percent of the school's students are from low-income families, according to state data, and advocates worried the closure would hit those families hard.
Arlette Crawford, 40, learned about the probable case of swine flu when she arrived at the school with her 5-year-old daughter, Aaliyah.
"I am pretty nervous," she said, recalling how on Tuesday she ate breakfast at the school with her daughter and they sat near another girl who "was sneezing nonstop," had a flushed face and raspy voice. Crawford said she and a teacher persuaded the mother to take that child home.
Huberman said state health officials alerted him Tuesday night that a student at the North Side elementary school had a probable case of swine flu. The district informed families about the school closure through automated phone messages, he said.
The Chicago closing came as President Barack Obama urged school districts with confirmed cases of swine flu to consider closing to help control spread of the illness.
As of 2008, Hispanic students made up 59.9 percent of Kilmer's population, according to CPS, and officials cautioned against drawing conclusions or stereotyping. Determining whether the child had traveled recently to Mexico will be part of the investigation, Mason said.
"That's one of the things we need to dispel right now. Very many times people try to ascribe or attach to virus and bacteria the geopolitical considerations. No. Viruses and bacteria attack everyone. It's an equal opportunity employer," said IDPH's Arnold.
Associated Press writers Carla K. Johnson and Karen Hawkins contributed to this report.