CHICAGO – Illinois’ flu season started earlier this year, and the most prevalent strain also is the one known for causing the most severe illness.
The Illinois Department of Public Health released figures Friday showing there have been more people getting sick, more positive lab tests and more people being hospitalized this flu season than at this point last year.
“Fever, cough, sore throat – folks have a version of that. The little ones sometimes have respiratory complications,” said Eva Palmer, a registered nurse and infection prevention specialist at Carle Hospital in Urbana. “We are seeing an increase in influenza-like activity here at our hospital and our clinic, and an increase in our lab-confirmed influenza cases.”
The story is similar throughout Illinois. A suburban Chicago high school closed briefly last week because a quarter of the students were absent with flu-like illnesses.
So far this season, 115 people have been admitted to Illinois hospital intensive care units with the flu, according to the state health department data. Sixty-six of those ICU admissions were in the most recent week reported, Nov. 30 through Dec. 6.
Illinois is one of 14 states where the flu already is widespread and one of six states in which doctor’s offices are seeing flu-like illness at rates much higher than average, according to a national report Friday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No Illinois deaths have been attributed to complications from flu this year, but last year the season ended with about 100 deaths statewide, according to state reports from last year.
The most severe flu seasons tend to be dominated by some version of the Type A H3N2 strain, which have been detected in Illinois and other states this year.
Flu vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year. This year’s vaccine isn’t considered a good match for the dominant strain of Type A H3N2 flu that’s circulating. But health experts still recommend getting a flu shot to protect against other circulating strains of the virus.
The CDC is telling doctors to consider using antiviral medications earlier for patients at higher risk for flu complications. That includes children younger than 2, adults 65 and older and people with chronic conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
Besides getting a flu shot, people can reduce the spread of the virus by staying home when they’re sick, washing their hands frequently and covering their coughs, said Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Shelia Porter.