To avoid spreading germs, Justin Karubas opted to phone in his comments and votes during Monday’s Indian Prairie District 204 meeting — a courtesy his fellow board members likely appreciated.
Karubas, of Naperville, is among the many who are experiencing the misery of one of the worst flu seasons in years, now widespread across 46 states, including Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When over-the-counter remedies no longer help, folks are flocking to the doctor to seek relief.
Mary Anderson, manager of Infection Control at Edward Hospital in Naperville, said the health system is seeing high volumes of patients arriving in the emergency room, walk-in clinics and doctors’ offices with flu-like symptoms.
The time of year and the recent spate of cold weather both play into the increase in influenza cases. “Over the holidays, there are lots of opportunities for transmission,” Anderson said.
While a rise in the flu cases might not be out of the ordinary, what is different is the severity of the symptoms.
“A higher number (of patients) than usual are requiring hospital admission,” Anderson said. “Over the last two weeks, 80 people were admitted with confirmed cases of influenza.”
Even at the height of a typical flu season, Anderson said the hospital might admit 35 people in a given week.
The influenza A strain known as H3N2 is the behind many of the cases. “It hits particularly hard the very old and the very young,” Anderson said.
According to DuPage County weekly influenza surveillance reports, 17 people were admitted to the intensive care units of county hospitals during the last two weeks of December, bringing the total number of admissions to 28 since Oct. 1.
That’s more than four times higher compared to the same period last year, when there had been only had six ICU admissions as of Dec. 31, 2016.
Kane County also experienced an explosion in flu numbers during the last two weeks of December.
Of the 916 confirmed cases of influenza reported in Kane County from Oct. 1 to Dec. 30, 70 percent, or 634 cases, were diagnosed between Dec. 17 and 30.
Last year, 162 incidents of the flu were reported in Kane County during the last three months of 2016.
Kane County Health Department spokesman Tom Schlueter said the last time nearly 10 percent of Kane hospital visits were for flu-like symptoms was during an outbreak in the 2014-15 influenza season.
If the trend continues, the area could experience a few more weeks of severe flu cases before the numbers begin to drop off.
So far this flu season, 86 percent of the Kane diagnoses involve influenza A. Schlueter said that’s not surprising since influenza A generally peaks before other strains, such as influenza B and influenza AB.
He warned the number flu cases could climb again in late January and February, when influenza B generally hits and after students — from preschool through college — are back in school.
Alpesh Patel, an epidemiologist with the Will County Health Department, said most adults can infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick; children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.
“This means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you are sick, as well as while you are sick. In addition, some people can be infected with the flu virus, have no symptoms and still spread the virus to others,” Patel said in a statement.
Will County figures show hospital emergency rooms treated 860 patients with flu-like symptoms from Dec. 25 to 31, compared to 391 during the same week the previous year. Of those 860, nearly half — 384 — tested positive for influenza.
“There is a lot of illness out there. We need to increase our prevention efforts and minimize human interaction where we can,” Patel said in the statement.
“If you are sick, you need to stay home and not be around other people, loved ones or co-workers. Hand hygiene has to be extremely important, along with covering when we cough and sneeze.”
Health professionals also advise it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
“A flu shot anytime during flu season is appropriate, but remember it takes two weeks to be effective,” Anderson said.
Last season’s shot, which contains the same mix as this year, was 43 percent effective against the H3N2 virus and 48 percent effective overall, according to the CDC. In Australia, the vaccine was found to be only 10 percent effective against the H3N2 flu strain.
While it might not prevent a person from getting the flu, the CDC reports the risk of hospitalization decreases with people who are vaccinated, Anderson said.