PEORIA — If avoiding miserable symptoms isn’t enough reason for getting a flu shot, here’s another — the flu kills people
In the last few weeks it has claimed the lives of two central Illinoisans — one from Peoria and another living in the region, said Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood. Both died of the H1N1 strain of the virus, though influenza A and B are just as likely to kill people, said Harwood.
Those most at risk of complications from the flu are the very young, the very old, or people with compromised immune systems or other chronic health problems, said Dr. Brian Curtis, an internal medicine physician at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. About 80 percent of people who die from the flu didn’t get vaccinated. A flu shot is the best line of defense against the virus, and this year the shot is a good match against the circulating strains, Curtis said.
“Two strains of A are circulating, along with H3N2 and H1N1, which is the predominant strain,” he said.
H1N1 made a big splash when it popped up again in 2009, sickening more people than in a typical flu season.
“H1N1 has always been around, we just hadn’t seen in in maybe 20 or 30 years,” said Curtis. “It re-emerged and sickened a lot of people, which is what happens when you have a virus that people haven’t seen in a generation.”
Since then H1N1 has been included in the annual flu shot with varying results.
“Last year wasn’t as good a match, but the people who did get vaccinated, if they got the flu it wasn’t as bad,” said Curtis.
The flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective in the best of circumstances, but it greatly reduces the severity of symptoms in people who do get sick, said Curtis.
Flu season is following the typical course this year and ramping up in January. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Illinois is at moderate flu risk with 15 other states at high risk. Flu season usually peaks later in January or February, and ends in March, said Curtis. St. Francis has been seeing more flu patients in recent weeks, and on Monday, the Peoria City/County Health Department issued a statement for all area hospitals, asking people to voluntarily limit visits to the hospital during flu season.
The precautionary measure is designed to protect patients, visitors and staff from flu and other upper respiratory illnesses. Don’t visit if you aren’t feeling well or have had flu-like symptoms in the past seven days. All visitors should practice good hygiene — sneeze into your arm or shoulder, and wash hands your hands or use alcohol-based hand cleaners frequently. Children shouldn’t visit hospitals at all.
“Children are at more risk of carrying the virus since they are in the classroom with other kids,” said Curtis. “You see these things go rapidly through schools.”
Even people who feel well could pass the virus on to others — it can take 24 to 48 hours for in infected person to begin experiencing symptoms, said Curtis.
Even though flu season is ramping up, it’s still not too late to get the shot, said Curtis. Though it takes about two weeks for the shot to take full effect, there are still a couple months left to this year’s flu season.
“Get vaccinated,” said Curtis. “The more people who are vaccinated the harder it is for the virus to spread through the community. And if you are sick, stay home.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.