Column: Flu is serious, but no need for alarm

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Oct. 20, 2009

In the newsroom Tuesday morning, a couple of us were talking about how we need to be careful with how we handle H1N1 stories, making sure that we don’t over-hype the actual danger or contribute to any sort of hysteria.

I should have known better than to start such a conversation.

Because, of course, at about 11 a.m., we received an e-mail in our general editorial inbox ( from a reader that St. Charles East High School had experienced an exodus of students from its halls Tuesday and Monday, many because of flu-like symptoms.


After a quick call to confirm this information, the reporting fun began. And at the end of the day, 972 kids either didn’t show up to St. Charles East on Tuesday or left early, and the school was closed through at least Friday.

Even the possibility that this could be linked to the H1N1 virus was enough to get widespread attention. Just about every TV news media outlet within driving distance was at the school district’s administration building for a 5:30 p.m. news conference, which meant many of us had to fight through our natural gut reaction of “Chicago TV is out there! The far western suburbs must be in danger!”

(Don’t over-hype the actual danger. Don’t contribute to any sort of hysteria.)

At this point, it’s hard to tell just how much of this actually is related to H1N1. It’s not often you see a regular flu outbreak bring down so many students at once, but it’s not unheard of, especially after Homecoming weekend when most of the students hung around each other Friday and Saturday. A cold, damp football game plus students massed together is a wonder equation for spreading sickness.

While we shouldn’t over-hype this, we do need to take it seriously. If you’re sick and running a fever, don’t go to school or work. It’s that simple. No point in getting everybody sick. If you or your kid is seriously sick and you’re worried about it, go to a hospital. And it’s probably not a bad idea to follow the government’s advice and get vaccinated if you are pregnant or in an age bracket that is considered at the highest risk.

But this isn’t SARS or the Ebola virus. It’s the flu, albeit a seemingly nastier version of it. Drink plenty of fluids. Rest. Get better in a few days. If you have other medical conditions that put you more at risk, consult your doctor.

Overall, I think the school was right to close down through Friday. With more than 40 percent of the student population out, it simply makes sense.

And I’m willing to take my own advice, as well. If I start running a fever, you won’t see me anywhere near the office. Unfortunately, unlike the St. Charles East students, I can work from home if need be

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. Write to him at or call him at 630-845-5368.


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