GENEVA – Flu season has arrived across Illinois, with local health professionals concerned this year’s virus strains including Influenza A may be severe.
On Jan. 3, Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva and its sister hospitals implemented visitor restrictions. They include limiting the age of visitors to 18 and older, media relations manager Kim Waterman stated in an email. And hospital patients are asked to have no more than two visitors at a time.
Waterman said protective masks are available at health care offices as well as at kiosks throughout the hospital to be worn by people coming to the medical campus for appointments who have symptoms. Waterman said they should alert their health care provider about their symptoms, which can include fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, body aches or congestion.
Because people can be contagious for up to a week after the onset of symptoms, they are asked not to visit anyone in the hospital or accompany someone to appointments until they are symptom free.
“We’ve seen an increasing number of cases in the last week,” said Dr. Luis Manrique, an infectious disease specialist who has been working at both Delnor and Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.
He said the H3N2 influenza strain is showing up, which can mean more severe illness in children and people who are older or with compromised immune systems.
“Everybody should get their flu vaccination and try to avoid contact with people who may be sick,” Manrique said.
He said while some media outlets reported that this year’s flu vaccination is not a good match for the prevalent strain and may only be 10 percent effective, which was the case in Australia, he said he has read research indicating that the effectiveness rate in the U.S. may be near 32 percent, similar to last year.
“People will still benefit from taking the vaccine,” he said. “Influenza activity is widespread. Anyone who has an influenza-like illness presenting with fever of more than 100 [degrees Fahrenheit] and sore throat could be suspected to have the flu. We have some people hospitalized with severe cases of influenza. The people I’ve seen have been older or have chronic conditions, [such as] COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and asthma.
“If you’re sick, try to stay home if you can,” Manrique said. “Wash your hands and get your vaccination.”
Echoing the hand-washing theme is Tom Schlueter, public information officer for the Kane County Health Department.
He said he recommends the three C's for prevention: Cover your cough, clean your hands and contain it – meaning people should stay home when they are sick.
“Public health officials will tell you it's still the best way to prevent the flu,” Schlueter said of the vaccine. “You can still get the flu, no vaccine is perfect. But the symptoms will be milder and probably have a shorter duration. It's always the best defense against the flu and to protect yourself, your family and those around you.”
The body takes about two weeks to produce a full immune response following inoculation. Vaccination is offered at a variety of pharmacies as well as health care providers and clinics. They include the Tri City Health Partnership in St. Charles, which serves people who are uninsured or underinsured; it has ample vaccines on hand, said Kim Lamansky, executive director.
Each Friday, the Kane County Health Department releases statistics providing an overview of influenza within the county.
Last week it reported that as of Dec. 30, there have been 13 reported cases of influenza-related intensive care unit admission. To date, there have been no reports of pediatric death associated with flu. There have been four outbreaks of influenza at long-term care/assisted living facilities in the county. No public schools had been closed because of increased influenza-like illness.
In describing the contagiousness of influenza, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website that although people with the flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after illness begins, some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. People who have the flu often feel some or all of the following symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually: fever or feeling feverish/chills; cough; sore throat; runny or stuffy nose; muscle or body aches; headaches; fatigue; and vomiting and diarrhea, which are more common in young children than in adults.
To learn more, visit kanehealth.com.