Flu season underway

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While the world is focused on the novel coronavirus that the World Health Organization recently declared a “public health emergency,” flu season is still impacting America. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there have been 19 million influenza illnesses this season, which has resulted in 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths, including 68 pediatric deaths. 

“Key indicators that track flu activity remain high, and, after falling during the first two weeks of the year, increased over the last two weeks,” the CDC reports on its website tracking influenza. “Indicators that track severity (hospitalizations and deaths) are not high at this point in the season.” 

In Monroe County, the flu so far has been comparable to previous years. 

“Flu seems to be about average compared to the past couple of years,” Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said. “We still have a ways to go in the flu season.”

The flu season often begins in October and peaks between December and February. 

For the week ending Jan. 25, which is the most recent available, CDC data shows Illinois is one of 33 states this flu season to be ranked at the highest level of flu activity. Forty-one states got an overall high rating. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports the flu is widespread in the state, which is the most severe rating. It is widespread in every state except Hawaii. 

While that is the case, leaders in Monroe County said it has not been much of an issue so far. 

“It’s not a problem at the nursing home,” Oak Hill Administrator Kim Keckritz said, noting all Oak Hill senior care facility staff members have received the flu shot. 

Monroe County schools seem to also be faring well. 

“While we’ve had confirmed cases of influenza, they are not widespread,” Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron said. “Our current student attendance rate is typical for this time of year.” 

Columbia Interim Superintendent Victor Buehler said there is “nothing alarming” about the flu in his district. 

“We’re not having any problems,” he said. “We’ve got a little strep going around, but not much of the flu.” 

For those who do contract the flu, the A strain of the virus has been slightly more prominent nationwide than the B strain, which Wagner said is also the case in Monroe County. 

The CDC reports it is too early yet to tell how effective the flu vaccines have been this year, but Wagner still encouraged people to get the flu shot. The CDC and IDPH also recommend that preventative measure. 

“It’s not too late to receive your flu shot,” Wagner explained. “It takes about two weeks to develop some protection. Even though the flu is not a great match this year, it can definitely help reduce the severity of the flu and may help you keep from developing symptoms that could result in hospitalization.”

Wagner also encouraged individuals to practice good hygiene and avoid contact with others if they get sick. 

While the CDC says the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated, other tips include avoiding those who are sick, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, cleaning your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth and practicing other good health habits like getting plenty of sleep and being physically active. 

As for the coronavirus, there are 98 confirmed cases in 18 countries outside of China, six of them in the United States. The most recent case—a man in Chicago—is the first confirmed instance of the virus transferring from person-to-person. The man’s wife had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, where the virus began.

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