Story Summary

Flu Outbreak

Forty-one states, including Illinois and Indiana, have now reported widespread flu cases.   As of last week, health officials reported seven flu deaths in Indiana and five in Illinois.

The flu has claimed seven lives in Indiana and five in Illinois. Nationwide 18 children have died from the flu.

Doctors suspect this year’s strong flu strain has been seen before but it has likely mutated, and even those who got vaccinated could contract a mild case of the flu.


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Thirty states are now reporting high levels of flu-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is a slight uptick from last week’s report.

All but two states are now reporting widespread flu activity, according to the CDC. “Widespread” means that more than 50% of geographic regions in a state — counties, for example — are reporting flu activity. It addresses the spread of the flu, not its severity.

The new report uses data collected by the CDC up through January 12.

The number of people being treated for the flu in outpatient facilities only increased 0.3%, according to the report, but hospitalizations for the elderly have gone up significantly.

Nine more pediatric deaths have also been reported, bringing the total since flu season began to 29. The CDC does not count the number of flu-related adult deaths.

Last week, the CDC reported a slight decline in flu levels, especially in the Southeast. We’re about halfway through the typical 12-week flu season, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told CNN on Monday, but the agency is not sure when it will peak.

“The only thing predictable about the flu is, it’s unpredictable,” Frieden told reporters.


Although the flu vaccine is far from perfect — it’s only about 62% effective this year — it’s the best prevention tool we have, Frieden said.

Approximately 37% of Americans had been vaccinated by mid-November, according to the CDC. That’s about on track with what was seen at this time last year.

Despite reports of shortages of the flu shot, vaccine manufacturers told CNN last week that there is plenty available for those who want it. Frieden said earlier this week that additional vaccines are being made available.

Genentech, which makes the antiviral drug known as Tamiflu Oral Suppression, had reported temporary delays in new shipments, but is working with the FDA to release its reserve stock. The packaging on this reserve medication may appear different even though the drug is the same.

“With the addition of these reserve supplies, we anticipate having sufficient supply of Tamiflu capsules to meet demand for this flu season,” a Genentech statement said.

Given within the first couple of days of infection, Tamiflu OS can ease flu symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. The drug is typically prescribed for children younger than 13 or for people who have trouble swallowing pills.

If you get the flu

The type of flu going around this year is called H3N2. People are more likely to get complications from this particular strain, which could make them ill for a longer period of time.

If you get the flu, don’t panic, said Dr. David Zich, internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Most patients should not go to an emergency room. Just get plenty of rest and take painkillers to help with muscle aches, Zich said.

Symptoms typically last up to seven days for a normal flu infection.

There are scenarios in which going to a hospital is necessary. If a patient is short of breath or can’t keep fluids down because of nausea, these are signs of a problem that needs immediate attention, Zich said. Excessive vomiting or sweating from fever can lead to dehydration, which is serious and requires treatment.

Very young children, seniors and people with underlying health conditions should also see their doctor, Frieden said. They are the populations most susceptible to serious illness. “Rapid treatment in the first 48 hours can make a big difference.”

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If you have not gotten the flu vaccine yet, call ahead to make sure your doctor’s office or pharmacy has it. Demand is high and in some locations, supply is running low.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report influenza cases have crossed the epidemic threshold.

There has been a significant increase in flu-related deaths and hospitalizations. In Illinois, there have been 27 deaths and 368 intensive care unit hospitalizations, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

It is not too late to get the vaccine, which takes two weeks to kick in. Flu season could last through March, or longer.

It is without question, flu season. These days, the state of the flu so bad in our area that a number of hospitals have resorted to diverting ambulances to other hospitals because of the flu’s impact on its emergency rooms.

Cook County Hospital turns away no one, but it doesn’t mean there is room inside. Patients line the walls while they wait for news inside the ER and the flu is largely to blame. 80 additional patients are seen each day at Cook County because of the flu.  At Rush, it is more than 50.

Emergency departments are overwhelmed with respiratory illness, more cases that doctors didn’t anticipate. That’s why the bypass process kicked in for some hospitals. While re-routing ambulances may seem unusual, at Northwestern Hospital, it happens maybe a dozen times a year.

The general public is advised to hydrate at home to reduce exposure and if you haven’t received your flu shot yet, it’s not too late. Doctors say there is a 60% chance it will beat this year’s strain.

So far the flu has claimed seven lives in Indiana and five in Illinois.

Medical Watch

The Flu and You: Symptoms and Care

The flu and you. If you got your flu shot, chances are you will still get sick this year. Even though manufacturers got the vaccine cocktail right — choosing the right strains — for unknown reasons it is not generating the powerful immune response expected. And the flu is striking earlier than expected.

A little bit of virus is packed in every inoculation – various strains, injected to trigger a major immune response, essentially teaching the body how to fight the latest flu.

Dr. Allison Bartlett, University of Chicago Medical Center, pediatric infectious disease specialist: “The flu shot every year has three different types of flu. This year, the three strains selected are a great match. There’s a little concern the vaccine is just not quite as effective as in previous years.”

So symptoms are striking with a vengeance.

Dr. Allison Bartlett: “It’s not your common cold.”

It starts with fever, chills, muscle aches, headache. If you get help right away, there is another weapon – an anti-viral medication. Given in the first 48 hours  of flu onset, the drugs will shorten the duration and severity of the flu.”

Dr. Bartlett: “That does not require an ER visit.  Seeing your primary provider or, oftentimes when flu activity is high, providers will prescribe over the phone.”

If you put off calling the doctor, simply put yourself to bed. Rest and fluids are the only fix.

Dr. Bartlett: “Rest up, fluids. Treat the symptoms if you are having fever. Stay out of the public eye and work until 24 hours after the fever is gone.”

You don’t want to infect others since some people are at greater risks for complications from the flu – young and old – those with asthma and other immune disorders and anyone with heart problems.

Dr. Bartlett: “Because there are more cases, we are seeing people being hospitalized and in the intensive care unit, but the flu itself doesn’t appear to be more severe.”

The flu will last for about five days then go away. If the fever comes back, that could be a sign of a secondary illness and the need for a new medication.

Dr. Bartlett: “Antibiotics don’t have any effect on the flu. They can have a role with pneumonia. Children can get an ear infection after the flu and in that case antibiotics are appropriate.”

Since the vaccine does offer some protection, doctors advise you to get the shot but it will take two weeks to provide any immunity.

At least three Chicago area  hospitals remain on bypass, as ambulances are diverted to other hospitals where doctors are seeing an onslaught of patients being tested for influenza.

There have been so many patients at Rush University Medical Center, 1620 West Harrison Street, that doctors ran out of testing kits for a short time.

The University of Chicago, Trinity, and Swedish Covenant hospitals are all on bypass status because they are at capacity.

Doctors suspect this year’s strong flu strain has been seen before but it has likely mutated, and even those who got vaccinated could contract a mild case of the flu.

“Our bodies have not seen this strain yet, so we are mounting significant immunity to it just now,”  Dr. Yanina Purim Shem-Tov of Rush University Medical Center told WGN.  “We haven’t been exposed to this strain in a long time.”

Forty-one states, including Illinois and Indiana, have now reported widespread flu cases.   As of last week, health officials reported seven flu deaths in Indiana and five in Illinois.  Nationwide 18 children have died from the flu.

Doctors are stressing the importance of hand washing and staying at home if you are sick.  And it is not too late to get a flu shot since the season could go on for another couple of months.

According to the CDC, nearly every state in the country is experiencing widespread flu outbreak, including Illinois. Not only did the flu come early this season, but local health officials say the number of cases have really spiked over the last week.

In a typical flu season, health officials say the number of cases doesn’t start to rise until mid to late January but this season; Chicago started seeing a rise in cases in early December. What’s particularly concerning this year is the strain that is circulating the most this year. The H3N2 strain, also known as Influenza A, is being reported the most this season. Doctors say that strain has been known in previous years to cause more severe illness.

The Chicago department of health urges anyone over six months old to get vaccinated, especially pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a chronic disease.

According to the CDC, this year’s vaccine is a good match for this year’s predominant strain. The health department says there are still plenty of vaccinations available in the Chicagoland area.

Reported by Krystle Gutierrez.