With leaves starting to fall and a chill in the air, Geneva resident Ed Banks said he knows flu season has arrived.
That’s why Banks stood in line at the Geneva Township Senior Center this week to get a flu shot, which was administered by VNA Health Care.
“I haven’t gotten the flu since I’ve been getting flu shots,” Banks said. “I do it every year to protect my health.”
Oct. 1 marked the beginning of flu season. Since September, VNA Health Care has been providing flu shots at clinics throughout the region. It’s too early to tell how bad this flu season will be.
“We just started flu surveillance,” said Chris Hoff, Kane County Health Department’s assistant director for community health resources. “We do collect data from schools and emergency rooms. Schools are a good area for transmission to happen.”
Typically, the flu season starts around the beginning of October and lasts until late April, Hoff said. He urged residents not to put off getting a flu shot.
“Obviously, we want to remind people to get their flu shots now, before it shows up in the community,” Hoff said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 percent of patient visits reported in the United States through the week of Sept. 29 – the latest data available – were because of flu-like illness, defined as a fever of 100 degrees or more and cough or sore throat. This percentage is below the national baseline of 2.4 percent.
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year. Flu vaccines work by causing antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.
While the flu season typically ends in April, hospital officials at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora were seeing flu cases well into May this year.
“It was unusual that we had the flu last longer because we had a warm spring,” said Barb Douglas, director of emergency and trauma services for Provena Mercy Medical Center. “In the warmer weather, people are outside more.”
Douglas said the best defense against getting the flu is a flu shot. Those who get a flu shot still can get the flu, but “it decreases the severity of it,” she said.
Supplies of the vaccine are plentiful this season, said Dr. Julie Bielat, of the Cadence Physician Group in Aurora.
“They are ready for everyone,” she said.
Bielat said she hasn’t seen any flu cases since spring. But that’s typical, she said.
“January, February, March, that’s when you see it peak,” she said.
Dr. Charlie Ireland, of Dreyer Medical Clinic in Batavia, said he also hasn’t seen any active flu this season.
“It is easier to spread indoors in the winter because people are indoors,” Ireland said. “Sick people get well people sick.”
And the severity of the flu season largely will be determined by how many people get vaccinated, he said.
“The more people are vaccinated, the more mild the season is,” Ireland said.
Even healthy people can get sick from the flu and spread it to others, said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. Flu deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people each year.
Hasbrouck said it’s important to get a seasonal flu vaccine every year because the strains often change year to year and the effectiveness of the vaccine declines.
“One of the biggest myths and most common reasons people don’t get the flu vaccine is because they think they get the flu from the flu vaccine,” he said. “The viruses in the flu vaccine are either killed or weakened, so you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.”