By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
While still small, the number of influenza cases reported in Illinois this season is increasing because of increased travel brought on by the holidays.
Richard A. Saalborn, medical director for the emergency department at Blessing Hospital, said 10 to 15 percent of patients are coming into the emergency room with respiratory difficulties that could be flu-related. Saalborn explained that the flu usually starts to gain momentum in late December because of holiday travel and makes its full impact in January and February.
"We're starting to see more influenza cases," Saalborn said. "We're not seeing any widespread problems at this point. It's hard to guess a number per day, but there's an increase in respiratory flu."
The virus was being seen in pockets throughout Illinois by mid-December. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that 208 specimens were tested for influenza from Dec. 8 to Dec. 14 and 29 were positive. Statewide, 42 people have been admitted to an intensive care unit for flu-like symptoms.
In Missouri, the virus has cropped up in some places, according to a Dec. 24 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Jeanette Greving, a nurse practitioner at Hannibal Regional Medical Group, reported that only two positive cases of influenza have been confirmed at the medical group's Express Care clinic this season.
"Hopefully the flu shots are doing what they're supposed to be doing," Greving said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a high number of flu-like illnesses in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in the second week of December. Saalborn expects the number of local cases to increase in the coming weeks.
"Especially with how people travel throughout the holidays, if it's prominent in one area it's going to spread," he said.
Saalborn recommended that people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes wear masks while traveling to avoid infections.
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, coughing, sore throats, and a runny or a stuffy nose. Saalborn said it's important to begin antiviral treatments within the first 48 hours after flu symptoms appear.
Greving said preventive care is important to avoiding the flu. She recommended washing hands frequently and receiving a flu vaccination. Jan Hummel, a registered nurse with the Adams County Health Department, said vaccinations are still available at the department.
"From a protection standpoint, people should get the flu vaccine as soon as possible," Hummel said. "We have no reason to believe that our supply won't be adequate."