Flu season hits its peak

H1N1 virus causing more young adults to seek treatment

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 11:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 7:43 a.m. CDT
Caption
(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Centegra Hospital – Woodstock emergency room nurse Michelle Ernst dresses in personal protective clothing during a recent demonstration for preventing the spread of the flu virus. There have been at least seven flu-related deaths so far in Illinois.

CRYSTAL LAKE – The flu season is sweeping across the nation and hitting those in Illinois harder than most.

In the peak of the flu season, state officials at the Illinois Department of Health have reported seven deaths and more than 120 intensive care unit visits as a result of influenza. There have been 14 hospitalizations in McHenry County, four of which were patients younger than age 17, according to the McHenry County Department of Health.

“The volume of people coming in to be treated has leveled off this week, but we expect to see another spike,” said Dr. Irfan Hafiz, vice president of medical affairs at Centegra Health System. “How high it will go is hard to tell.”

According to the McHenry County Department of Health, the flu rate is similar to last year. Positive rapid influenza tests were at about 20 percent on Jan. 4 this year and in 2013, while the number of patients making appointments because of flu-like symptoms was at roughly 10 percent to date for both years.

But Hafiz said the main concern is the severity of the particular strain of influenza and the demographic it is affecting.

The main flu strain spreading throughout the state and country is the H1N1 flu – known as swine flu – that caused a pandemic in 2009. It is different from other flu viruses because it affects people in their 20s through 40s more than other strains that usually affect elderly and infant populations.

“We do expect the older age groups to get sick, but when we start seeing young adults and people in their 30s come in it gets us worried,” Hafiz said. “Even a few admissions are a concern and we’ve seen that.”

That is why it is necessary to take the precautions to prevent the disease on a personal and community level, he said.

The most effective combatant of the flu is to get a vaccine, Hafiz said, which is available at local health care providers and pharmacies for $20 to $30. Doing so will protect the individual and just as importantly prevent the disease from spreading throughout the community.

Centegra has taken its own steps to prevent the disease from spreading. Health care providers and staff received flu shots in the fall and there have been changes in how patients visit to reduce potential exposure to the virus.

Melany Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Health Department, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not reported a shortage of the vaccine despite an increase in flu treatment nationwide.

She said there is still time to get a flu shot and encouraged residents to do so as soon as possible because it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect.

“The peak of flu season is in January but it can last into March and sometimes into April,” Arnold said. “Even if you have the flu, a shot can make the duration shorter and less severe.”

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Health officials encourage people who exhibit those symptoms to stay home for 24 hours after the fever is gone.

Visit www.idph.state.il.us/h1n1_flu/vaccine_locations/sf_vaccine_locations_mchenry.htm for a list of locations that offer flu shots.

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