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Swine flu fears close schools in Kane, Cook counties
By Robert McCoppin and Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

Concerned neighbor Danny Irmiter listens as Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman and Chicago Public Health Director Terry Mason hold a press conference outside Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago,Wednesday.

 

Associated Press

Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman, Chicago Public Health Director Terry Mason, left, and Kilmer Elementary School Principal Miguel Trujillo speaks outside Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago Wednesday.

 

Associated Press

The typewritten note on the door of Rotolo Middle School in Batavia says the school is closed until Monday because of a probable case of "swine influenza."

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

The typewritten note on the door of Rotolo Middle School in Batavia says the school is closed until Monday because of a probable case of "swine influenza."

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

A 27-year-old man from Elmhurst who had recently visited Mexico went to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Friday with symptoms of swine flu.

 

Daniel White | Staff Photographer

A 27-year-old man from Elmhurst who had recently visited Mexico went to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Friday with symptoms of swine flu.

 

Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Lake County Health Department officials Leslie Piotrowski, left, and Tiffany Bronk, along with emergency response coordinator Bob Grum, plan for communicating information about swine flu during an Emergency Management Team meeting Wednesday in Waukegan.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

The Lake County Health Department held a meeting of its Emergency Management Team Wednesday to discuss how to handle swine flu in the county. Team members Mark Pfister, left, and Jeanne Ang work on an action plan.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Lake County Health Department facilities manager Bruce Robbins, right, talks with Community Health Association Director Patricia Donald during an Emergency Management Team meeting Wednesday in Waukegan.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Rotolo Middle School in Batavia closed for the rest of the week after a 12-year-old student was identified as having a probably case of swine flu.

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

Rotolo Middle School in Batavia closed for the rest of the week after a 12-year-old student was identified as having a probably case of swine flu. Notes on the door tell of the closure.

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/29/2009 7:11 AM | Updated: 4/30/2009 8:48 AM

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The Chicago area became part of an international epidemic Wednesday, as officials found the first nine probable cases of swine flu in Illinois.

But the patients, ages 6 to 27, all had relatively mild symptoms, state health officials said, and only two were reported hospitalized.

Two of the case are in Kane County, one in DuPage, one in Lake and five in the city of Chicago.

The Kane County cases involved an 18-year-old male from Geneva who attended Marmion Academy in Aurora and a 12-year-old girl from an unincorporated area who attended Rotolo Middle School in Batavia.

To prevent further spread of the disease, at the urging of the Kane County Health Department, the two schools closed for at least the rest of this week and canceled activities, while the two students are recovering at home.

The health department also asked Holy Cross Church in Batavia to cancel religious education classes scheduled for Wednesday evening.

The closings mean Marmion's nationally renowned Flannigan Rifles Drill Team, which was due to leave Thursday for a national contest in Daytona Beach, Fla., had to cancel its trip. Headmaster John Milroy called it "a real shame."

The Rotolo band will not be able to march in the annual Batavia Loyalty Day parade Saturday, Batavia District 101 Superintendent Jack Barshinger said.

The 12-year-old girl from Rotolo was in school Friday and didn't show symptoms until Sunday, Kane County Health Department spokesman Tom Schlueter said. Carriers can be contagious for a day before showing symptoms, so officials hope the girl did not expose other students.

The Rotolo student had not traveled to Mexico, and Barshinger did not believe she was related to the Marmion student.

Asked why the school closed, Barshinger said he relied on advice from the health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "I don't think you can err on the side of safety," he said.

Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia also canceled its religious education classes Wednesday night at the request of the Kane County Health Department, out of concern that students from either of the affected schools might have attended.

The DuPage County case involved a 27-year-old man from Elmhurst who had mild flu symptoms and had traveled to Mexico. He went Friday to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, spokesman Kyle Bauer said, and was treated but not admitted.

In Lake County, the victim was a 6-year-old boy from the east-central part of the county who was still hospitalized, county officials said.

The Lake County Health Department held a meeting of its Emergency Management Team Wednesday, in part to help handle the hundreds of calls a day to the county about the disease.

Doctors, parents, schools and health officials called with thousands of questions, ranging from stopping the spread of the disease, to travel preparations, to who should be tested.

Some parents are impatient about unanswered questions and what the schools are going to do, Director of Community Health Services Bill Mays said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends that schools linked to a confirmed case should "strongly" consider closing.

In the Lake County case, it wasn't even clear the 6-year-old boy had attended school, because he recently came from somewhere else, Mays said. He would not say where the boy lives now to avoid any chance of identifying him, and added that it is ultimately the school superintendent's decision what to do.

"We're urging people to be calm," he said. "We need more confirmation to do something as drastic as close a school."

In Chicago, the patients were a 12-year-old girl from Kilmer Elementary School on the North Side, which was temporarily closed; a 25-year-old man; and two adult women and one adult man whose ages weren't given.

The University of Chicago Medical Center says two of its employees have probable cases of swine flu. In a press release late Wednesday, the hospital said the two people are among nine Illinois cases reported earlier in the day by state health officials. The release says the employees, while contagious, had no contact with patients and limited contact with hospital staff.

One victim in the United States has died so far. To put that into perspective, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Damon Arnold said more than 30,000 people die each year in the U.S. from the common seasonal flu.

Though the Illinois patients are considered to have "probable" cases, the test that confirmed they have swine flu is 99 percent accurate. To confirm the diagnosis, swab samples from each patient were sent to the CDC for final analysis expected by Thursday or Friday.

Meanwhile, Lake and Kane counties have established swine flu hotlines.

The Lake County number has prerecorded information at (847) 377-8350 in English and Spanish.

The Kane County hotline is set up to answer residents' questions. The number is (630) 208-3315 and will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

In Mundelein, Diamond Lake Elementary District 76 canceled a Parent-Teacher Organization Cinco de Mayo event planned for Friday. The event was expected to draw a large crowd of people who were bringing food dishes to pass, a spokeswoman said. A multicultural event will be planned for fall, she added.

In McHenry County, Public Health Administrator Patrick McNulty said his county has had at least five people tested for swine flu, but no positive results yet.

The swine flu outbreak has killed more than 150 in Mexico and spread across the U.S. and other parts of the world. The first U.S. swine flu death in the current outbreak, a 23-month-old child in Texas, was confirmed Wednesday.

The new cases came as President Barack Obama urged school districts with confirmed cases of swine flu to consider closing to help control spread of the illness.

"Parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas should shut down ... Just sending a (sick) child from a school to a day-care center would not be a good solution," Obama said.

Nadia Malik, Susan Sarkauskas, Bob Susnjara, Robert Smith, Melissa Jenco and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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