DECATUR — Health professionals have seen an uptick in influenza cases in the last two weeks in Central Illinois and across the country.
“Recently, in the past two weeks, we’ve seen more numbers of cases,” said Dr. Jignesh Modi an infectious disease specialist at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital. “I think it is a weather change, and people like to stay in the house so they are exposed to more infections and more risk.”
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's FluView noted the number of states reporting widespread flu activity jumped from 23 to 36 for the week ending Dec. 23, the latest report available.
At St. Mary's Hospital, there have been 86 cases of the flu and 137 cases of strep throat, according to Andrew Dilbeck, marketing specialist for the hospital.
Modi said it is too early to tell if the proper flu strain was vaccinated against because the flu season is just starting. It typically lasts until the middle of March, he said.
“First is if someone is sick make sure you stay home, don’t go around too many people,” he said.
Especially people at higher risk for serious complications from the flu, including children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women and people with long-term health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If someone begins to feel ill, the key is to stay hydrated and take a pain reliever and fever reducer such as Tylenol, Modi said.
It is important to consult a doctor because various illnesses may have similar symptoms but different treatments, Modi said. Another illness seen frequently at St. Mary’s is strep throat, which can have similar symptoms to the flu, he said. Another, may be the norovirus, commonly known as the stomach flu.
Another tip is for people to wash their hands with soap and water before touching their eyes, nose or mouth where the virus thrives, according to the CDC. The flu virus can live on a surface for a few hours after exposure, so it is of vital importance to have proper hygiene, Modi said.
Decatur Memorial Hospital is encouraging people to follow three steps to prevent infection: clean their hands, cover their mouth and nose and avoid close contact with others if they become sick.
"Influenza can be spread before symptoms occur, so hand hygiene is the most important measure to protect our patients and their family members,” said registered nurse Shannon Comer, DMH infection prevention manager, in a statement.
Comer also reminds hospital staff to remain clean to protect patients.
“Be sure to clean high-touch surfaces (exam tables, counter tops, chairs, sinks and faucets, door handles, light switches, etc.) with a disinfecting solution as needed and allow to air dry,” she said.
Modi said it might be time to see a doctor in person if the patient no longer feels comfortable taking care of themselves at home such as a high-grade fever, dehydration, lack of appetite or the illness worsens after two or three days.
“If (the patients) are vaccinated, their course (of flu) is shorter and less severe, one day they start feeling worse and feel bad for two to three days, but better within five to seven days,” Modi said.
The CDC is reporting an increase in cases of the H3N2 flu strain, but Modi said doctors just test for the flu, not the specific strain.
“It is difficult to predict which influenza viruses will predominate in the 2017–18 influenza season. However, in recent past seasons in which A(H3N2) viruses predominated, hospitalizations and deaths were more common, and the effectiveness of the vaccine was lower,” according to a report from the CDC.
Modi said it is not too late to get the vaccine. If someone does get the flu after having received the vaccine, it will be shorter and less severe in most cases, he said.
“Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection,” the CDC said.