JOLIET – As have many other medical facilities around the country, the Will County Health Department has been busy administering a lot of flu shots.
Lisa Carlson, program coordinator for immunizations for the department, was running around straightening out paperwork, talking to parents and, of course, having to deal with a few children unhappy about the thought of getting a shot.
“Our numbers are down compared to the last two years. However in January, we’ve probably doubled from last year,” Carlson said.
Still, the numbers across the county show how much more the flu is taking its toll this season.
The health department epidemiologist Alpesh Patel reported that from Dec. 25 to Dec. 31, Will County hospital emergency rooms had 860 visitors with flu-like symptoms. By comparison, there were 391 during the same week the previous year. Of the 860 tested for the flu, 384 came up positive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FluView, the flu was reported widespread in every state except Hawaii and Oregon as of the week ending Jan. 27, the most recent data available. The number of children who’ve died from flu this season increased to 53.
“There is a lot of illness out there,” Patel said in a news release on the increase in flu cases. “We need to increase our prevention efforts and minimize human interaction where we can.”
Patel wanted to remind everyone that people can spread the flu with others who are up to about 6 feet away. He said most experts believe that flu viruses are mainly spread by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Those droplets can land on the mouth or nose or be inhaled into the lungs.
As for the reason some people aren’t coming to get the shot, Carlson said she’s heard a lot about the shots being ineffective. She stressed that there was really only one strain, the H3N2 strain, that’s been causing a lot of the severe illnesses.
Still, she and Patel said that while getting a shot is not a 100 percent guarantee of not getting sick, it still can be effective in reducing the severity of symptoms.
“People are not going to get as sick if they’ve had a flu shot,” Carlson said. “They’re less likely to end up in ICU or in the hospital.”
Patel also said that health care facilities might have to change their workflow a bit to make sure they reduce the risk of further spreading the flu. He said they should be prioritizing necessary visits and reschedule nonessential visits to keep as many people away from waiting rooms as possible. Hospitals such as Silver Cross in New Lenox have limited their visiting hours because of the flu.
Most people can pass on the flu even a day before symptoms develop and then five to seven days after becoming sick. Children can pass the virus for longer than seven days. Also, some people can be infected with the flu, not show symptoms and still spread the virus, Patel said.
He said that the number of cases should decrease by late February or March, but the virus hasn’t yet shown any sign of slowing down.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Patel said. “We see every week things keep rising, so we hope that at some point the season will plateau.”