CHICAGO – The risk of flu infection has been climbing rapidly in Illinois and in most of the rest of the nation.
Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said Tuesday that almost 150 people in the state have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with the flu this season and six have died.
Eight Chicago-area hospitals turned away ambulances Monday night as they dealt with a surge of patients with flu-like symptoms such as cough, fever, muscle aches and runny nose.
U.S. health officials have reported that the strain of influenza virus going around this year has been linked to more hospital admissions and deaths. In contrast, last year's flu season hit later and illnesses were milder.
"This season is a reminder of how serious flu can be," said Dr. Julie Morita of the Chicago Department of Public Health. The most recent reports from Chicago labs that test for influenza showed 17 percent of specimens tested positive. Last year by this time, fewer than 1 percent of the tests were positive.
Statewide, the flu-related deaths have been in Cook, Will and Coles counties. People who've died have been in their 50s, 60s and elderly, according to the state health department.
It isn't too late to get a flu shot, and there's no shortage of flu vaccine. This year's vaccine is a good match for the viruses circulating this year, one indication of how well the vaccine should work.
The state health department's website has a map with lists of local health departments that provide flu shots. People should first contact their doctors or other health care providers. Many drug stores also provide flu vaccine.
Morita said Chicago residents can call 311 to find out where to get a free flu shot.
Illinois is among 29 states reporting high flu activity, and 41 states were reporting widespread geographic flu activity for the week ending Dec. 29, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends antiviral medications for certain patients who are sick, including those hospitalized and seriously ill. Antiviral treatment also is recommended for people who may have the flu and are at high risk for flu-related complications. That includes young children, people 65 and older, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant women.