McHenry County health official says flu season not at peak, encourages vaccinations

McHenry County health officials encourage vaccinations

McHenry County is facing a rise in the influenza virus, and health care providers are encouraging residents to get vaccinated.

“We are seeing numbers rise in our region,” said Dr. Irfan Hafiz, an infectious disease specialist who serves as chief medical officer of the northwest region of Northwestern Medicine. “In the last week or so we’ve started to see increases, similar to what we’re seeing nationally. ... We don’t think it’s peaked yet.”

The flu is a contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses and can cause mild to severe symptoms. Complications associated with the virus can lead to hospitalization or death, especially for seniors, young children and people with compromised immune systems, Hafiz said.

“If you are sick with flu-like symptoms – fever, shaking, chills, shivering, cough – make sure you are not exposing other people,” he said. “The most important thing is to get vaccinated ahead of time. Vaccination goes a long way to reducing symptoms.”

Hafiz said the flu shot does not cause an illness.

“You may get some chills, you may get some body aches, but that’s the vaccine working. It trains your body to be prepared for when it actually sees the real thing,” he said, adding that it takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to work properly.

Jack Gardner, 14, of Huntley received his annual flu shot Wednesday at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital.

His mother, Kelly Hazenfield, said she fears the flu will “ramp up” in local schools.

“I started feeling, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to get this done,’ ” she said.

Flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Keri Zaleski, the McHenry County Department of Health’s community information coordinator, said the flu often peaks in December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

The health department tracks reports of flu-like illnesses across the county in hospitals, assisted-living centers and schools. However, it does not count people who deal with the illness alone and do not report their symptoms.

Influenza-associated intensive care unit admissions, influenza-associated pediatric deaths and influenza outbreaks in long-term care facilities are reported to the county health department’s communicable disease staff. Emergency room cases are sent to the county via the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics. School absenteeism because of the flu is reported weekly.

Based on that data, the number of confirmed flu cases has risen in recent weeks. Between Dec. 23 and Dec. 29,
14 out of 205 (7 percent) laboratory specimens tested positive for influenza. Between Dec. 16 and Dec. 22, 5 out of
145 (3.5 percent) laboratory specimens tested positive for influenza. From
Dec. 9 to Dec. 15, 4 out of 132 (3 percent) laboratory specimens tested positive for influenza, according to the most recent county data.

There were no confirmed cases of the flu during the first week of December.

Zaleski expects the number of children diagnosed with the virus to rise because winter break has ended.

“Schools have been out of session until just this week,” she said. “The kids haven’t been together, so that tends to drive things like the flu down.”

Zaleski said there have been no pediatric deaths in the county from the flu this season.

“There has been one ICU admission,” she said, adding that she could not provide information on the hospital or patient.

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