DeKALB – The flu typically spreads this time of year, but the unusually high number of confirmed cases statewide in recent weeks has local experts concerned.
“In past years, we would see a mild elevation starting in November,” said Dr. Bob Manam, director of infectious disease for Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital. “This year, we were like, 'Where is it?' It wasn’t that bad the third week of December. … Everything we hadn’t seen all came in at once.”
Manam, who has more than 25 years of experience dealing with the flu, said he can’t recall a time when the flu spiked so suddenly, pointing specifically to the week of Christmas.
Kim Waterman, Northwestern Medicine's media relations manager, said the number of flu cases diagnosed at the hospital tripled the week before Christmas compared with the week before, and the number more than doubled again the last week of the year. She said that three patients had to be treated in the intensive care unit.
Manam attributed most of Kishwaukee Hospital’s confirmed flu cases to the elderly. He said when older people get the flu, it’s a lot easier for them to get sick compared to a child because of other complications they might have.
With Northern Illinois University returning to school from winter break after this weekend, Manam said there is a slight concern flu cases could hit another "small spike," but he’s confident the numbers will drop soon.
“We had a big fast rise,” he said. “We’re not rising as much [anymore], but we’re still at a high level. We expect that high level to come down at the end of January. It’s gone up and plateaued, and we haven’t seen it come back down yet.”
If you have flu-like symptoms, you won't be allowed to visit any patients at Kishwaukee Hospital. Even if you don't have symptoms, visitors will be limited to two a patient, and anyone younger than 18 will not be allowed to visit.
Experts also said the flu vaccine's effectiveness was lessened when the strain of flu mutated, but getting your shot can only help. The DeKalb County Health Department takes walk-ins from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Contrary to popular belief, flu symptoms are not vomiting and diarrhea, but chills, fever, respiratory distress and coughing, Manam said. People suffering any of these symptoms should go to their primary doctor for help as soon as possible. Call to make an appointment first, because the number of people opting to go to the emergency room has created long waits.
Waterman said emergency wait times have normalized a bit.
"While patient volumes will fluctuate throughout the flu season, current emergency department wait-times have stabilized," she wrote in an email update. "Thank you for your patience this week as our staff cared for a high volume of patients."
Manam thinks many DeKalb County residents have the flu but haven’t received treatment, which means there will likely be even more confirmed flu cases. During December, Kishwaukee Hospital had to keep some patients inside the emergency room because of the flu season spike, according to Manam.
To help combat the flu, Manam gave simple advice: Get a flu vaccination.
“There should be no fear about getting the flu shot,” he said. "What's unusual this year is the speed we saw the number of cases. This was just like nothing and all of a sudden ... quite a few cases.
"It is not too late to get the vaccination."
Tips to prevent getting, spreading the flu
• Get the flu vaccine
• Stay home when you're sick
• Maintain distance from anyone who has the flu
• Wash your hands with soap and water hourly
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
• Practice other healthy habits – get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, and eat well