Number of probable H1N1 cases in Ill. grows

State opens English, Spanish hotline for H1N1 flu questions
May 2, 2009 8:57:37 PM PDT
The number of probable cases of the H1N1 flu in Illinois has grown. According to the Department of Public Health, the state now has 85 probable and three confirmed cases of the new flu strain. However, a University of Chicago infectious disease expert is echoing what other top scientists have said: This strain is not as dangerous as first thought.

Meanwhile, President Obama says he hopes all the precautions that have been taken prove unnecessary.

The virus has moved outside of the Chicago area,.with one probable case in Sangamon county and another in Winnebago county.

The city of Chicago has 2 confirmed and 24 probable cases. As the number of cases grows, Illinois will only test hospitalized patients with severe symptoms, in order to use resources more cautiously.

A 20th school in the Chicago area has now closed. Larkin High School in Elgin will be shuttered until May 7; a student there was identified as a probably case.

"The important thing here is that [the word] 'pandemic' talks about spread and not severity," said University of Chicago Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr. Kenneth Alexander.

A lot of people may get the H1N1 flu, but relatively few should be overly concerned. That was the message Saturday from a group of doctors gathered at RainbowPUSH to help educate the public about what experts have learned in the last week about the virus.

"This virus is very similar to the influenza that you and I are used to seeing every winter," Alexander said.

In fact, most years in America, complications from influenza claim 36,000 lives. The H1N1 strain has only killed one person in the United States.

In Mexico, 16 deaths are confirmed to be a result of H1N1. Test results were not back Saturday on 85 additional fatalities.

"Every year, thousands die from influenza, and we don't hear about it because they are the severely ill and the elderly," said Dr. Claudia Johnson, an internal medicine specialist.

"Thus far, the strain in this country that has infected people in at least 19 states has not been as potent or deadly. We cannot know for certain why that is, which is why we are taking all the necessary precautions, in the event the virus does turn into something worse," Pres. Barack Obama said in his weekly Web address Saturday.

Among those precautions, in Chicago and around the country, officials are closing schools where a student or staff is believed to have contracted the illness.

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley says, while closing schools can be inconvenient, it makes sense.

"Parents are worried, let's be realistic," he said. "Sometimes, precaution for a day or two is better than having a lot of kids infecting others."

Also Saturday, state officials opened new hotline opened to provide Illinois residents with easy access to information about the H1N1 flu.

Hotline operators will be equipped to answer basic, non-medical questions related to the outbreak and will be able to refer callers to additional information sources.

"With the flu outbreak in the news every day, we know many people have questions," said Andrew Velasquez III, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA). "Through this hotline, we hope to answer basic questions and connect people with sources for additional information."

The hotline will be staffed by state employee volunteers from several agencies, with support from public health professionals from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Spanish-speaking operators also will be available.

IEMA and IDPH were conducting a training session for hotline operators Saturday in advance of the hotline opening.

The hotline numbers are 866-848-2094 for English and 866-241-2138 for Spanish. It will operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for as long as needed.

In addition, information about the H1N1 flu is available in English, Spanish and Polish on the state's Ready Illinois Web site at


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