Flu season here early, heating up

January 4, 2013 5:12:45 AM PST
The flu season started early this year, and while there is hope that means it will end early, there are no sign it's letting up.

Experts are bracing for what could be a really rough season.

Now that holidays are winding down, infectious disease experts expect another surge following the family get-togethers with all the sharing of food and affection.

Matt Head spent the day before his 29th birthday in the emergency room and hoped to find some kind of relief for the flu symptoms that have dragged him down all week.

"My temperature is all around," he said.

Head is one of thousands of Illinois patients suffering from the flu earlier and in greater numbers than usual so far this season.

At Rush University Medical Center, patients and visitors are now being screened for signs of flu.

No one is really sure why this season started so early, or why there are already so many cases. For example, so far this season, Rush has seen 195 cases. That compares with 119 total cases recorded for the entire flu season last year.

"Last year was a late and mild season," said Mary Alice Lavin, RN, infection control, Rush University Medical Center. "This year seems to be an earlier season and we are seeing more cases."

They've seen a huge increase in flu cases at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove as well.

Doctors say patients are typically highly contagious and the symptoms generally last 4 to 7 days. They can prescribe medicine to help ease the symptoms but there is nothing to make it go away entirely.

While doctors still recommend getting flu shots, they said shots seem to be less effective so far this year in fighting the most prevalent strains of the virus.

"In general, vaccines are not 100 percent effective," said Dr. Michael Lin, infectious disease, Rush University Medical Center. "They're probably 60 percent effective in the best of circumstances, and we know in some years the vaccines don't match up well with the vaccine. This year, the vaccine matches very well to the strain we are seeing so far, particularly the ones in Chicagoland."

Circulating flu viruses and the vaccine change every year.

There have been some reports in other states, such as Utah and Texas, of flu strains not covered by this vaccine.

But the CDC also stresses the current vaccine, which you can still get, is very well matched to what is predominately going around the country.