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Influenza picks up steam

Pharmacist Nicole Wright gives a flu shot to DeKalb resident Steven Lawson at Lehan Drugs on Saturday in DeKalb. Lawson, who has asthma, wanted to be protected from the flu before the beginning of the spring semester at Kishwaukee College.
Pharmacist Nicole Wright gives a flu shot to DeKalb resident Steven Lawson at Lehan Drugs on Saturday in DeKalb. Lawson, who has asthma, wanted to be protected from the flu before the beginning of the spring semester at Kishwaukee College.

DeKALB – The emergency room at Kishwaukee Community Hospital has seen a steady stream of patients with flu-like symptoms since the beginning of December.

The hospital treated 250 people with flu-like symptoms in December, and saw 115 patients with the same symptoms from Jan. 1 to 11, an average of more than 10 a day.

“Earlier in the week there was a surge in admissions requiring some people to be held in the ER, which we just expanded this past year, until a bed was available,” Sharon Emanuelson, marketing and public relations director of the KishHealth System said, adding that the crisis has subsided, but they are still busy.

Valley West Hospital in Sandwich, which also is part of the KishHealth System, is also reportedly busy, but Emanuelson said they’ve had only a handful of admissions.

As the flu continues to spread across the state and the country, health officials are recommending that people who passed on the flu vaccine earlier this year seek it out now.

There have been 368 flu-related intensive care unit hospitalizations and 27 flu-related ICU deaths in the state, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Friday. But none have occurred in DeKalb County, said Jane Lux, the county’s public health administrator.

“No deaths in DeKalb County as a result of the flu of [people of] any age have been reported to us,” Lux said.

This flu season took hold earlier than normal, Lux said.

“What happened was, we started to see more flu about a month earlier than usual,” Lux said. “Normally, we see it in January, but this year it started in December.”

Lux said the county’s health department has flu shots available for people of all ages, and said she was unaware of any local shortages.

However, IDPH Director LaMar Hasbrouck says the demand for flu shots has created some spot shortages around the state, but he says that’s good news because it means people are getting the message to protect themselves and those around them. He spoke Monday in Chicago with Gov. Pat Quinn. Both men called on Illinois residents to get vaccinated against the flu.

Ann Lehan, pharmacist and co-owner of Lehan Drugs, 1407 S. Fourth St., said they have flu shots available for people 10 years old and older. She said they “don’t have hundreds in stock” but they have enough to keep up with demand. An employee at Eggleston Pharmacy, 403 E. State St., in Sycamore, said the vaccine also is available there.

Lux added that it can take up to two weeks for a vaccine to take effect, and even if a vaccinated person were to get sick, their symptoms were likely to be less severe than someone who is unprotected.

She also cautioned people who might be feeling ill to be aware of spreading it to others.

“[Flu shots are] also protecting the people who are most vulnerable,” Lux said. “If you have the flu, you can still pass it on to those who are vulnerable.”

Those vulnerable populations include pregnant women, young children, and people who are 65 and older.

The IDPH said most of the hospitalizations and deaths in the state have been people who were in their 50s and older. Officials expect the number of hospitalizations and deaths to rise as more numbers come in.

Nationwide, Illinois is one of 47 states that saw widespread flu activity during the week of Dec. 30 to Jan. 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The CDC also reported that during this time period, 4.3 percent of hospital visits were because of flu-like symptoms, such as high fever, a cough, or sore throat. This data came from the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network.

In addition to getting a flu shot, Lux advised people to practice the 3Cs in order to prevent the spread of influenza. The 3Cs are clean, properly washing one’s hands; cover, cough or sneeze into one’s arm or a tissue; and contain, stay at home if one is sick.

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” Lux added.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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