Flu season peaking early in Illinois

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State records show that the flu season in Illinois appears to be peaking early this year. (WLS)

Flu season in Illinois appears to be peaking early this year, according to state records.

At Stroger Hospital of Cook County, there were 89 new cases of influenza over the weekend, with three people needing admittance to intensive care.

The hospital said they have stocked up on the flu vaccine, which the Illinois Department of Public Health said is still the best way to deal with the threat of the flu, even into the second week of January.

"It is the most important and effective way to prevent yourself from getting the flu and to protect those around you from being at risk....it still reduces the number of hospitalizations, and can make the illness more mild if you do get the flu," said Chief Medical Officer of the Illinois Department of Public Health Jennifer Layden.

Illinois is experiencing a 6.4 percent increase in influenza positive tests from last year. In Cook County, there have been over 150 flu hospitalizations in the county system this season. Last year, there were a total of 210 through March.

The trend mirrors what's happening nationwide. So far, 26 states are reporting high levels of outpatient visits for influenza-like symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease control. That is up 21 states since last week.

Part of the reason for the spike is this season's strain of the flu, H3N2.

"That strain of flu tends to change more rapidly than other strains from the time that we know what's circulating to the time the vaccine is made," said Dr. Sharon Welbel of Stroger Hospital.

Emergency rooms in Chicago dealing with the flu have led to a backup in admission of ambulance patients, forcing ambulances to hold patients longer. This slows Chicago Fire Department responses to new emergencies, department spokesman Larry Langford said. The department has brought five ambulances out of reserve to keep responding to calls, he said.

"We're seeing a high level of stress right now, where at any given time hospitals are on complete bypass saying don't bring anybody here," Langford said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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