Illinois Flu Cases Climb; 27 Deaths this Season

By Sean Powers, with additional reporting from The Associated Press

The Illinois Department of Public Health says 368 people in the state have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with the flu this season and 27 have died.

Most of the hospitalizations and deaths are among people in their 50s and older. No children have died. Health officials expect an increase in the number of hospitalizations and deaths as more doctors and hospitals report cases from previous weeks along with their current cases.

According to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, the supply of flu vaccines in the area is running low.

Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said a common myth is that getting the flu shot won’t prevent strains of the virus circulating in Illinois from making someone sick. The flu vaccine is reformulated each year, and officials say this year's version is a good match to the viruses going around.

While she said it can take a couple of weeks for the vaccine to take effect, she urges anyone who has not gotten the flu shot to get it now.

“I hope we run out," Pryde said. "I mean I really do hope that we get as many people as possible. I’ve already reached out to other health departments where they’re not seeing very much flu, and I’m trying to get more vaccine into our community. But I’d like to see every single dose we have used every year.”

Pryde said it is a good idea to call ahead to see if the flu vaccine is available.

Illinois hospitals are being asked to enforce restrictions on visitors because of the severe flu outbreak that's increasing the risk of infection throughout the state.

The Illinois Department of Public Health advised hospitals Friday to temporarily bar visitors younger than 18 and to limit visitors to two per patient at one time.

Other recommendations include requesting people with coughs and other symptoms not visit hospital patients.

Many hospitals already were limiting visitors because of the flu before the letter from the health department.

The Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council polled its member hospitals earlier this week and found that 20 percent were already altering their visitor policies.

Rob Humrickhouse of the MCHC said if people feel sick they shouldn't visit somebody in the hospital.

Meanwhile, there have been more than a dozen deaths in Indiana also connected to the flu, as the state experiences what a health official calls a "moderately severe" outbreak.

Respiratory epidemiologist Shawn Richards of the Indiana State Department of Health said five new deaths were reported overnight. The deaths include two patients in separate long-term care facilities.

Richards said the state does not identify facilities with flu deaths unless there are five fatal cases of the illness.

Flu season has hit earlier this year and could put Indiana on pace to exceed its average for deaths. Richards said the state typically sees seven to 30 flu deaths a year.'

Officials say hand washing and staying home when you're sick can keep the flu from spreading.

Story source: WILL