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Naperville North student's death linked to H1N1 virus
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff

Michelle Fahle

 

Courtesy of Amanda Knutson

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Published: 10/9/2009 2:01 PM | Updated: 10/9/2009 8:14 PM

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A Naperville North High School freshman who died Thursday had H1N1 flu, health officials said Friday.

However, the DuPage County coroner and health department have not determined whether the virus caused 14-year-old Michelle Fahle's death. They will be doing additional tests to determine if there was an underlying condition.

"We don't want to be shortsighted," Coroner Pete Siekmann said. "We're trying to cover the bases."

The health department said it would take at least 10 days for results, but Siekmann said he expects them by as early as noon today.

Michelle's death is the first related to H1N1 in DuPage County, though there have been 19 others in Illinois since April, said Dave Hass, spokesman for the county health department.

Michelle had been experiencing flu-like symptoms for several days and was rushed to Naperville's Edward Hospital by ambulance Thursday morning. Doctors there pronounced her death.

Naperville North students were not in school Thursday and are not scheduled to return until Tuesday due to parent-teacher conferences and the Columbus Day holiday.

Superintendent Mark Mitrovich confirmed all Naperville Unit District 203 schools will be open Tuesday as scheduled based on recommendations from the county health department.

Michelle's classmates set up a Facebook memorial page in her honor that has more than 1,700 members. Friends also posted a video tribute on YouTube.

Those who knew Michelle say she was a talented singer who was sweet, friendly and hardworking.

One of her closest friends, North freshman Alexa Hansen, said Michelle was a typical teenager who loved boys and sleepovers. She looked forward to becoming an artist and a mother.

"She was an amazing artist, and it was too soon for her to go," Alexa said. "She had so many talents that could have helped the world in some way. ... I miss her so much that it feels like my heart has been torn out of my body and I am walking without one."

Students on the Facebook memorial page are discussing wearing black, purple and lime green - Michelle's favorite colors - when they return on Tuesday and placing notes and flowers near her locker.

Visitation for Michelle will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Beidelman-Kunsch Funeral Home, 516 S. Washington St., Naperville. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home and will be followed by burial at Naperville Cemetery.

Michelle's family asks that donations be made to the choral program at Naperville North, 899 N. Mill St.

H1N1 is a respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever of 100 degrees or greater, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache and feeling tired, according to the county health department.

Mild cases of H1N1 have become widespread both in DuPage County and around the country. There have been more than 1 million cases of the virus in the U.S., according to Hass.

Pete Schubel, an emergency department physician at Edward Hospital, said H1N1 has the same patterns and level of severity as the seasonal flu and while people should be cautious, they shouldn't panic.

"Worry on the same level as you worry about the seasonal flu on an annual basis," Schubel said. "No more, no less."

He said people who experience difficulty breathing, severe vomiting or severe headaches may need to see their doctor for further evaluation.

People with higher risk for complications are those younger than 2 or those with other medical conditions such as chronic cardiovascular problems, congenital heart abnormalities, severe asthma, immune problems or chronic conditions.

To prevent contracting the virus, health officials recommend being vaccinated, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, cleaning your hands often, avoiding contact with those who are sick and staying home if you are sick.

Flu mist vaccine is currently available for priority groups such as health care workers. Vaccinations for the general population are expected to become available later this month.

Hass said school districts make their own decisions about whether to remain open, but the health department does not recommend closing unless there is an unusual level of absenteeism.

The department also says a complete cleaning of school buildings is not necessary but items that come in contact with people's hands, such as railings, doorknobs and keyboards, should be cleaned.

For more information on H1N1, call (630) 221-7600 or visit protectdupage.org or edward.org.

H1NI; Doctor at Edward says not to panic