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Flu Will Likely Kill 3,500 in Illinois

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From the Department of Reality Check, the Illinois Department of Public Health reports that during the past decade influenza -- a.k.a. "the flu" -- and subsequent pneumonia have caused an average of 3,500 deaths a year in Illinois. Since 1992, the highest number deaths, 4,021, occurred in 1993.

Thus, approximately 3,500 Illinois residents will die of the garden-variety flu in 2009.

However, the Illinois and global swine flu outbreaks have so far unleashed a media hype pandemic with news outlets reporting on practically every local snot, sneeze and wheeze as "suspect" swine flu.

Meanwhile, Thursday the World Health Organization has confirmed 257 swine flu cases -- globally. 257. There are currently 17 probable cases in Illinois. 17.

And approximately 1,700 Americans could be infected in a worst-case scenario, says Dirk Brockmann, associate professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics at Northwestern. About 100 of those would be in Chicago.

The media and the public need to take a breath. And it can be safely done -- without the mask.

However, once the swine flu outbreak subsides and "the flu" returns to its normal killing rate of several thousand Illinois residents annually, let's hope the public-health warnings and media coverage don't return to normal.

Perhaps "the flu" can be re-branded.