FLU SEASON, never a pleasant affair, is worse than usual this winter, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.
Illinois health officials have reported 27 flu-related deaths and 368 hospitalizations for flu-like symptoms and the state has some of the nation's highest influenza rates. Hospital workers are not among those buying into the theory that a peak in flu cases during December means the worst is over.
CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden warned that flu activity is hard to predict and that the flu typically peaks in February or March. Frieden has not declared victory over the flu.
Tri-State residents would do well to treat the flu as a serious health threat.
Not only does Illinois have a "widespread" flu rating, Missouri has a "regional" flu rating that points out hot spots.
Health care professionals say the flu can be spread from an infected person who is no closer than six feet away. It can be passed on a full day before symptoms are evident, so avoiding contact with people who feel sick is no guarantee against contracting the virus. Door handles and other objects also may harbor live influenza virus as much as a day after it was used by an infected person.
Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the strain of flu now circulating in the state has historically been a more severe strain that causes more hospitalizations. However, those who become ill are urged to contact their primary physician rather than going to an emergency room.
Symptoms include sore throat, high fever, cough, body aches and fatigue.
CDC officials say it is not too late to get a flu shot. Sixty-two percent of those who are vaccinated never get the flu and those who do catch it generally have less serious symptoms and recover more quickly.
Flu shots are only the first line of defense.
People who wash their hands frequently are less likely to come down with the flu and less likely to spread it to others. People with flu symptoms should do their part and stay home or seek medical assistance. They are strongly urged not to go to work places and to avoid all contact with young children, elderly adults or those who are frail.
Influenza costs the nation $87.1 billion during an average year. Medical costs alone average $10.4 billion and the lost income through illness and death is $16.3 billion.
The flu is a life-and-death issue for thousands of Americans each year. If everyone takes it seriously, the number of deaths and illnesses can be reduced.