As swine flu fears grow, Mexican consulate says don't panic

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • April 28, 2009 @ 8:00 AM

The Mexican Consulate in Chicago is urging people not to panic as fears of a swine flu epidemic are sweeping the world and institutions across the city are taking precautionary, preventive measures.

Consulate press officer Lino Santacruz Moctezuma says he believes the virus is under control and asked people to exercise caution, but not terror.

“This swine flu is not a mortal disease anymore,” he said. He said the Mexican government had treated nearly 70 percent of known cases in that country.

The Mexican government’s work with the World Health Organization and the United States is quelling the threat, Moctezuma said. About 150 people in Mexico have died from the disease, which originates from pigs and can be spread through coughing, sneezing and other flu symptoms.  Other cases across the world have been milder.

“We shouldn’t panic,” he said.

At the same time, President Barack Obama suggested Americans limit their travel to Mexico, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was preparing for a pandemic and Chicago city officials were clear in their opinion that the swine flu would soon breach the city.

"There are no cases of swine flu at the moment, but we definitely expect that will change given what we've seen elsewhere," said Dr. Terry Mason, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, on Sunday.

At educational institutions across the city, precautionary measures were being taken.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Bond said administrators were tasked with raising awareness of preventive measures. CPS distributed a memo to staff, and put information for parents on its Web site.

“What we’ve done is we’ve issued a notification internally to the principals, school faculty, administrators, just to observe and be aware of any patterns of illness (and) flu-like symptoms,” she said.

At the heavily Hispanic Orzoco Community Academy, a principal ordered students to refrain from shaking hands, according to news reports. But Bond said the principal was being “overly cautious,” and said CPS was not singling out Hispanic children or schools for more aggressive measures.

“We don’t have any type of aggressive effort looking for students who may have traveled to Mexico, but (the virus is) not just limited to Mexico,” Bond said. “We have to just take the necessary precautions to try and safeguard here inside the school system, and ask the parents to take the necessary precautions.”

Officials at DePaul University were in contact with students studying abroad in Merida, Mexico, said university spokeswoman Denise Mattson. The university is also informing students and staff at other locations abroad of the swine flu risks.

Elsa Tullos, spokeswoman for the City Colleges of Chicago, said the school is abiding by guidelines set out by Mason and the city.

No cases of swine flu have been reported in Illinois, but more than 70 have been reported across the country. From California to Kansas to New York, fears of the impending virus, which some fear could rival the deadly pandemic flu of 1918, were swarming.

Cook County Department of Public Health head Dr. Stephen Martin says the department is monitoring the city and suburbs.

Chicagoan Teresa Sanchez says relatives in Mexico told her the government was working to eradicate the virus. She says she believes swine flu has been in Chicago for weeks.

“I think it was here before anything else,” she says. Sanchez says she knows children who have been showing symptoms of swine flu, including vomiting, headache and diarrhea for more than a month.


Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.