Area health agencies are reporting that this year's flu season is particularly intense.
Never in the past decade has the flu season started this early, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The flu season typically peaks in February, the CDC reports, but this year the flu has caused many people to visit their local emergency rooms as early as December.
Elmhurst Memorial Hospital already has documented more than 400 cases of flu. On Dec. 26, its emergency room staff cared for more than 214 flu patients in a 24-hour period.
NBC News reported this week that 11 state hospitals went on bypass mode Tuesday, sending non-critical patients to other hospitals. At Elmhurst Hospital, a "pod" of extra rooms was opened to treat the overflow of patients.
“To ensure that we are well-prepared to serve our patients, Elmhurst Memorial Hospital decided to open one of our flexible inpatient areas and will begin admitting patients to that unit this afternoon (Jan. 8),” Pam Dunley, EMH vice president of hospital operations and chief nursing officer, said in a prepared statement. “All our departments are currently focusing their efforts on preparing these extra rooms to accommodate additional patients as necessary.”
DuPage County Health Department also issued a letter to schools and child care centers in the county.
As of Dec. 29, 38 flu patients were in intensive care in DuPage, compared to eight ICU-hospitalized cases during last year's flu season, according to the health department. No flu-related deaths have been reported in DuPage County.
According to the Cook County Department of Public Health the number of people experiencing influenza-like symptoms continues to increase in the suburbs. Those suffering from the illness are showing symptoms that are much more severe than in previous years.
Six flu-related deaths have been reported in Illinois.
Drug manufacturers have also been feeling the effects of the increased number of cases. The makers of Tamiflu, which slows down flu symptoms, reported a shortage of the drug, according to Reuters.
The CDC is reporting that the Great Lakes region is the nation's hardest hit, with about 60 percent of people checked for the flu testing positive.
Google's Flu Trends page classified the flu rate in Illinois and Chicago as 'intense' and shows levels much higher than previous years.
EMHC recommends a flu shot to help prevent the spread of the disease. For more information and directions to immediate care facilities, click here.
Other steps include:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Don't share cups, straws or anything that goes in the mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, and promptly discard used facial tissues.
- If you are sick, stay home.
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