Illinois Public Media News
Health officials in Champaign County saw only a handful of H1N1 or swine flu cases over the summer. But now that students are back at the University of Illinois Urbana campus, they're bringing a steady flow of suspected flu cases with them.
Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the McKinley Health Center on campus, says suspected H1N1 cases have been coming in at the rate of 5 or 6 a day. He says most of the students are sent home to their parents, where they can be relatively isolated until they are no longer contagious. But for those who can't go home --- or who already live in the area --- Palinkas says they've been finding ways to keep infected students away from other people as much as possible.
"Sometimes, it means having a roommate change a room", says Palinkas. "Sometimes, it means a housing entity --- not necessarily University Housing --- find temporary accomodations for five to seven days. So far, each of those arrangements has been, really, pretty successful."
There is no definitive diagnosis of H1N1 flu virus in most of these cases, because state officials are limiting how many cases they test. McKinley Health Center doctors are basing their diagnosis on a rapid flu test plus their own clinical judgment.
Palinkas says he expects suspected H1N1 flu cases to continue among U of I students --- and even increase, as the virus spreads throughout the campus. He says common-sense prevention methods can limit the flu's increase. Those methods include frequent handwashing, covering coughs with a sleeve, and not sharing materials from one mouth to another.
The water utility for the city of Danville takes issue with an advocacy group's report that consumers may be subject to higher-than-allowable traces of a farm chemical.
The report from the Natural Resources Defense Council cited government figures suggesting Danville's water supply had exceeded standards for the herbicide atrazine.
But Kevin Culver, a compliance officer with Aqua Illinois, says the NRDC's numbers are from 2004, and since then, recent EPA tests found no detectable levels of atrazine. However, Culver says atrazine is a concern since Danville's drinking water source, Lake Vermilion, includes lots of farm runoff. He says the utility filters out the chemical with a simple process.
"It's actually the same component in your home water systems that they say to use, and one of the recommendations is activated carbon to remove it at home," Culver said. So it's the same type stuff, although we use a lot more of it during the growing season."
Chemicals like atrazine have been linked to birth defects and hormone disruptions in animals, though the federal Centers for Disease Control has not found the same effects on humans.
Illinois' top education and health officials have issued a "Dear Parent'' letter recommending seasonal flu vaccinations for all school children in the state. The letter also urges parents to get their kids vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus when that vaccine becomes available this fall.
It's aimed at parents of children in the state's nearly 4,000 public K-through-12 schools, plus private schools. The letter is posted online in English and Spanish, signed by state Education Superintendent Christopher Koch and Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon Arnold. They're urging schools to include it in back-to-school materials for parents.
The letter urges parents to talk to their doctors or local health department about where to obtain flu shots or nasal spray vaccines, although many schools eventually will offer them.
An architectural and engineering firm will pay Champaign County over a million dollars to settle a lawsuit over problems that delayed the opening of the county nursing home. The Champaign County Board approved the settlement Thursday night.
In exchange for the county dropping its lawsuit, the Farnsworth Group will pay $1,225,000 --- including $800,000 to cover the cost of adding booster fans to an underpowered heating-ventilation and air conditioning system at the new nursing home building. The settlement also covers the operating costs for the booster fans, and expenses created by the 1-year delay in opening the nursing home. The Farnsworth Group does not admit any mistakes, and several items it's paying for are listed as "alleged" in the settlement. But the payment satisfies County Board Finance Committee Chairman Brendan McGinty.
"We made back what we considered to be owed to us," says McGinty. "It replenishes our General Corporate Fund at this point, which is dangerously low, as it has been all year. And we get to move on from this particular matter."
The next matter is Champaign County's complaint against general contractor Otto Baum Company, over the use of lumber in the nursing home's construction that was later found to be moldy, requiring expensive cleaning. That case is scheduled to go into binding arbitration next month.
A Champaign County Board vote tomorrow (Thursday) may bring to a partial end to the legal haggling over workmanship at the county nursing home.
The county has been at odds with general contractor Otto Baum and the Farnsworth Group, an architectural firm. But an item added to the county board's agenda today (Wednesday) includes an unspecified settlement with Farnsworth. Board chairman Pius Weibel says if it's approved, the settlement would end the county's legal dispute with Farnsworth, but not with Baum.
"It boils down to the core issues, down to the HVAC system. I can't say much more than that because some of those issues may or may or may not be part of the settlement," Weibel said.
Weibel also wouldn't say if the county is getting money from the proposed settlement or if so, how much. Construction of the new nursing home building was beset by problems, including the faulty heating, air conditioning and ventilation system, and wood used in the construction that was later found to be moldy. The problems delayed the new home's opening by more than a year and cost the county several hundred thousand dollars. The county had settled with a third contractor.
The Champaign County Nursing Home Board voted Thursday night to send the county board a 16-point-2 million dollar budget plan for fiscal year 2010. It's a budget they think they can keep in the black --- if they're careful.
Nursing home management consultant Mike Scavotto says a lot depends on keeping the number of nursing home residents high. That's been difficult in the past few months, as the nursing home census has frequently dipped into the 180s --- officials would like to see it above 200. Scavotto blames the decline in nursing home population on the poor economy. If the nursing home census DOES stay down in 2010, he says they'll have to manage nursing home expenses accordingly.
"You don't continue to buy things when you don't need as many of them," says Scavotto. "You don't continue to have as many people in your staff when you can flex. And that's the system here. So they've been pretty good at flexing. So we'll have to see how that's going in the census downturn."
Scavotto says the Champaign County Nursing Home will face another financial burden next year. For the first time, it will start paying back the county for money it was loaned for operations and additional construction costs. That will add another 200-thousand dollars to the nursing home budget. The nursing home built up the debt during a time when its operations were deeply in the red. But Scavotto says the Champaign County Nursing Home has stayed in the black so far in 2009 for expenses that don't include depreciation costs.
A health care advocacy group is organizing its efforts toward legislation as Congress takes up the issue, and it wants Congressman Tim Johnson to join in their discussion.
The Champaign-based Campaign for Better Health Care assembled several small business owners who say they have trouble affording health care for their workers and themselves because of cost or pre-existing conditions. Café Kopi owner Paul West once offered his full time workers health insurance. "We had to give it up because it's too expensive, and we lost two good employees because of it," West said. "I myself got a temporary policy. i'm trying to find something myself. It's just been...it's hard."
Campaign organizers have set up two town hall meetings in Champaign on the issue, the first one this Saturday. They're criticizing 15th district congressman Tim Johnson for scheduling town hall meetings of his own on early Monday evenings in Villa Grove, Rantoul and Danville - they say they're too inconvenient for most workers.
Johnson's spokesman Phil Bloomer says the Monday evening meeting times were picked to accommodate the congressman's Washington DC schedule. He says Johnson's office understands where health care advocates like the Campaign for Better Health Care are coming from and have been in contact with them multiple times.
West Nile Virus is back in Champaign County this summer after a very light season for mosquitoes last year.
That shortage of mosquitoes meant no reports of the virus in mosquito pools, animals or humans in 2008. Sanitarian Michael Flanagan of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health district says a trap in the city of Champaign yielded a positive test result in recent days. However, he says it's no reason to panic.
"Starting now, since that we've found this virus in Champaign County, it's time to become more aware of your clothing and mosquito protection for people," Flanagan said.
West Nile disease has led to deaths in Illinois and other Midwest states in previous years. But health officials say many cases are mild, sometimes leading to no overt symptoms. Flanagan says the best protection against the disease is keeping away from mosquitoes - wearing light-colored clothing, using repellent and dumping any standing water on your property.
More than 31-hundred swine or H1N1 flu cases have been reported in Illinois, including 13 deaths. And for the first time, a swine flu case has appeared in Champaign County.
Julie Pryde of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District says the person is between the ages of 5 and 24, and is believed to have become ill over the weekend. She says the person's doctor was very astute, and recognized the symptoms as possibly being swine flu.The person is currentlyrecovering at home.
Pryde says it was only a matter of time before a swine or H1N1 flu case was confirmed in Champaign County. Other central Illinois counties where swine flue cases have been confirmed are Coles, Piatt and Sangamon.
Pryde says the best defense against spreading the swine flu is for people to stay home if they feel sick, and be especially careful if they are pregnant, immune-compromised, or suffer from diabetes or asthma. She says people with these conditions who experience flu symptoms should call their doctor or healthcare provider immediately, because of the increased health risk.
In addition to the more than 3100 cases in Illinois, another 267 cases if swine/H1N1 flu have been confirmed in Indiana. However, no deaths have been reported in that state.
Pryde says there are no other suspected swine flu cases in Champaign County at this time. But she calls on residents to take precautions --- including staying home if they have flu-like symptoms ... and calling their doctor quickly if they have those symptoms on top of factors such as pregnancy, diabetes and asthma.
For some union members, it's worth getting arrested in order to bring attention to Illinois' budget. Capitol police Tuesday detained eight home health care and child care providers. They had been protesting what they see as the Illinois House's lack of action on an income tax hike. The eight blocked the main entry to the Illinois House chambers. Police escorted them away after the workers refused to leave.
All are members of the S-E-I-U health care union. Union president Keith Kelleher explained they demonstrated to put pressure on the legislature to increase taxes.
"We do not appreciate the political games that are being played here", said Kelleher. "And they need to pass a fair tax increase. Just like many people got arrested to even get the right to have a union, many people got arrested during the civil rights movement to win civil rights for Americans, we are saying we need our economic rights."
Kelleher says without a tax increase, human service cuts will be devastating. He says otherwise the state's subsidy to help pay for the care of 150 thousand kids from moderate income families will be cut. He also says the state will stop paying for in-home aides that care for about 30 thousand elderly and disabled individuals.
A spokesman for the secretary of state says the eight protesters were released without charges after a brief detention. He says police had no choice but to remove them because it's a fire hazard to block entryways and exits.
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