Flu season has peaked early at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, where physicians have not treated so many seriously ill flu patients since 2009’s Swine Flu epidemic.
Illinois is considered to be experiencing one of the greatest flu outbreaks in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health. At Good Samaritan Hospital, this has resulted in more patients visiting the emergency room and being admitted to the hospital.
“There’s a lot of flu out there,” said Dr. David Beezhold, an infectious disease specialist on staff at Good Samaritan Hospital. “But there’s no need to panic. If you’re otherwise healthy, you’re likely to have a mild case if you do get the flu.”
The timing of a flu outbreak is unpredictable and varies from season to season, but flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. Flu activity in the current season began relatively early compared to recent seasons – particularly 2011-12, which began late and was relatively mild, according to the CDC.
At Good Samaritan Hospital, the outbreak began just before Thanksgiving. Patients flooded the emergency department throughout the Christmas holiday and continue to seek treatment.
Because influenza is highly contagious, people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms are encouraged to stay home from work to avoid infecting others. They are also discouraged from visiting others in the hospital.
Flu symptoms can be mild or severe, and can come on suddenly. Common symptoms include:
- Fever (100 degrees or higher)
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose (more common in children than adults)
People who experience one or more of these symptoms for several days should contact their physician. Influenza vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year and among different age and risk groups, which means that it’s possible to get the flu even if you’ve had the flu shot.
Beezhold encourages people to practice good hand hygiene to limit the spread of influenza and other illnesses.
“Wash your hands often,” he said. “Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness.”
The CDC offers the following handwashing tips:
- Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.