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Flu season starts strong

Tom Schlueter of the Kane County Health Department understands his advice for people during flu season is simple and trite.

But that doesn’t stop him from encouraging people to get a flu shot and follow the three C’s: cover your cough, clean your hands and contain the disease by staying home when you’re sick.

“It can be a challenge, but if we all stayed home when we were sick and didn’t spread the disease, fewer people would be out from work,” Schlueter said.

The need to follow this advice is highlighted by the cases already reported this flu season, Schlueter said. And the incidents of flu are likely higher than the reported numbers because many people don’t seek treatment from a doctor.

According to the health department’s influenza surveillance summary for the week of Dec. 23, 8.94 percent of hospital emergency room visits were for flulike illness, up from about 8.5 percent the week before. Children 4 and younger reportedly accounted for 34 percent of the week’s flu cases, and the 5- to 24-year-old group accounted for 35 percent.

Last year, emergency room surveillance peaked in mid-March at 4.02 percent, according to the health department.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue and vomiting and diarrhea, although those symptoms are more common among children than adults.

Adults can infect others a day before symptoms develop and up to a week after becoming sick. Flu viruses are believed to be spread mostly by droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze or talk.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports incidents of influenzalike illness are nearing past peak levels during moderately severe seasons. It notes 29 states, including Illinois, are reporting high activity.

The CDC reports the number of people seeing their health care provider for influenzalike illness has increased from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent in four consecutive weeks. Last season’s relatively mild season peaked at 2.2 percent, according to the agency.

With the season’s peak typically occurring in February and March, people still have time to protect themselves with a flu shot. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, Schlueter said, describing it as the best protection against the flu.

The CDC recommends those 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine yearly, although exceptions apply.

The health department offers a flu shot indicator map on its website,

“We always say, ‘It’s never too late to get a flu shot,’ ” Schlueter said.

And, he repeated, follow the three C’s.

“Stop the flu,” he said. “It starts with you.”

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