An unusually long and harsh winter has brought on a more severe flu season this year.
The increase in cases has caused the Illinois Department of Public Health to issue a warning of widespread cases stating that there have been at least six deaths from flu-related symptoms and 122 flu-related intensive care unit hospitalizations in Illinois. Two flu-related deaths have come from McLean County and Peoria County alone.
On January 16th a 35 year old McLean County man died in Peoria from symptoms of pneumonia, after being diagnosed with H1N1 influenza (commonly referred to as Swine Flu). In addition, a late 40s man from McLean County also died of flu-related causes in late December 2013.
Different years often have a different predominant strain of the flu that circulates, and so far this season the H1N1 virus has been the most common, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The H1N1 virus has been circulating since it first started in 2009, causing a worldwide pandemic.
Diana Scott, the Public Information Officer for the Peoria County Health Department, explained that even though it’s been a long flu season the number of cases are beginning to go down.
“The number of cases we see are starting to drop off a little bit, which is what we were expecting to see.” Scott said. “In our area we are still using general precautions in encouraging people to follow the three C’s. Cover your cough and sneezes, contain your germs by staying home if you are sick, and clean your hands by properly washing them frequently.”
The increase in cases has caused OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria to issue a health advisory requesting the public to limit visits to the hospital. The measure is meant to protect patients, family, and staff from the heightened cases of the flu this season. The center is currently requesting visitors be at least 18 years old, as younger children have higher risk for transmitting the flu. They are also asking that anyone not feeling well or that has had flu-like symptoms in the past seven days not visit hospitalized patients.
Taking all the precautions may not always be enough, so the best way to prevent getting the flu is simply by getting a flu vaccination.
“It is not too late to get a flu shot.” Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said. “Flu activity typically peaks in January, but can run into April. Getting vaccinated now can help protect you from the flu in the coming months.”
Flu vaccinations are quick, easy, and relatively cheap to get, and are available in many places.
“You can get a flu shot at almost any pharmacy.” Scott said. “It’s really great that so many places are offering them, so people don’t have to go to the doctor or health department to get one. Since the flu is around all year, it’s always a good time to get a flu shot.”
If you are looking to get a flu shot, but don’t know where the closest location to you is, you can visit https://flushot.healthmap.org for a list of all the available locations and their hours.