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Stop the flu; it starts with you

As influenza tightens its grip, Illinoisans are not defenseless. Getting the flu vaccine and practicing three important rules of health can limit the flu’s spread.

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Many areas of Illinois are experiencing one of the worst flu seasons in years, so it is important for people to take precautions to help prevent themselves and others from contracting the nasty bug.

Illinois is one of 41 states with higher-than-normal levels of flu activity, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illinois hasn’t seen such widespread influenza this early in the season since 2003. During a one-week period in late December, the state recorded 31 flu-related admissions to hospital intensive care units. Three of those resulted in deaths.

Since then, the situation has not improved. As of Tuesday, almost 150 Illinoisans had been admitted to hospital intensive care units with the flu. The death toll had risen to six, according to Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Chicago is a flu hot spot, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Chicago laboratories that test specimens for influenza found a 17 percent positive rate. At this time last year, fewer than 1 percent of the tests were positive.

“This season is a reminder of how serious flu can be,” said Dr. Julie Morita of the Chicago health department.

Amen.

Influenza barged into humanity’s consciousness about a century ago. A flu pandemic from 1918 to 1920 killed millions worldwide; in the U.S., the death toll was estimated from 500,000 to 675,000.

People had no defenses then. They do now.

Flu vaccines can keep individuals healthy and limit the spread of the virus.

Those stricken by flu know it is no fun. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, extreme fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children.

The flu can be confused with other flu-like illnesses caused by different viruses. For example, the common cold can have similar symptoms but less severe consequences.

Complications arising from the flu can range from bacterial pneumonia to sinus problems to worsening chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC.

Though it’s difficult to determine why this season has been particularly bad, some health officials blame it on a fewer number of people getting the flu shot, which is the best way to prevent yourself from getting influenza. 

Even though it’s January, the shots still are widely available. In addition to family physicians, many drugstores offer walk-in clinics. A directory of locations where the vaccine is available is online at flushot.healthmap.org.

There is more you can do to help prevent the spread of the flu than just getting a flu shot. 

Health officials recommend practicing the “3 Cs”: Clean your hands, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and contain your germs by staying home if you get sick.

Stop the flu. It starts with you.

 

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