As you may have gleaned from that nagging cough and full-body ache, flu season is in full swing.
The H1N1 strain that took thousands of lives worldwide in 2009 and 2010 is less menacing now, and today it goes by the name influenza A, which also describes its cousin, technically known as H3N2. Neither is the same as influenza B, which is also showing up in hospitals and doctors’ offices.
There is no question the seasonal flu is doing its usual strut, sickening increasing numbers of people with congestion, fever, aches and fatigue as the season plods along.
“People who have flu sometimes refer to it as feeling like they’ve been hit by a bus,” said Mary Anderson, infection control manager at Edward Hospital in Naperville. “It really leaves you feeling quite crummy for a long time.”
The hospital is seeing a usual volume of flu-like complaints for this time of year, and area health departments say there’s been a modest but steady increase during the past few weeks in those showing the symptoms.
“This time of year is the usual peak for the numbers, and it is the same situation here in DuPage as it is all across the state and most likely the nation,” said David Hass, spokesman for the DuPage County Health Department.
In Kane County, 5.5 percent of all those who came into the emergency rooms of reporting hospitals over the last week in January had the signs typical of flu. It’s a larger proportion than the county’s public health people have seen during this period in any of the past few years.
“For this time frame, we are seeing a lot of influenza-like illness,” said Tom Schlueter, spokesman for the Kane County Health Department.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the state reached the top tier of flu saturation, labeled widespread activity, in the last week of January and the first week of February. Records kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Illinois is one of 32 states now showing widespread occurrence.
Local schools so far aren’t experiencing unusual numbers of kids out, though.
“Currently, we are not seeing any spike in student absences due to the flu,” Indian Prairie School District spokesman Janet Buglio said. “What we are seeing is typical absences that occur during flu season.”
Numbers don’t tell the whole story. While symptoms are a good indicator of diagnosis, flu is not recorded formally by public health agencies, which describe likely cases with the term “influenza-like illness.” So the ailment is more widespread than official reports indicate. What’s more, not everybody sees a doctor when they fall ill.
“Flu is something that sometimes people have mild case,” Hass said. “We (don’t) get a true picture of what’s going on out there.”
Once it hits, there isn’t much that can be done about it. A doctor may prescribe Tamiflu to address the symptoms, and some literature suggests it can reduce the duration of the illness if it’s taken soon enough, Anderson said, but there’s still no magic bullet.
It can be helpful to see a doctor at the first hint of malaise. The CDC and other public health agencies recommend going in if you’re having trouble breathing or functioning normally.
“With kids, if they’re very lethargic, then it’s time to see the doctor,” Anderson said.
As with most flu, this year’s seasonal strains take special aim at those who have compromised immune systems, babies and elderly people. But H1N1 is still around, and it proved to have a predilection for young adults.
“Those of us who are young and healthy are not necessarily immune,” Anderson cautioned.
It makes sense to take steps to avoid the flu’s wrath. Healthy people need to steer clear of those showing the symptoms. And cleanliness is also key.
“Wash your hands, and use hand sanitizer a whole lot if you’re out,” Anderson said. “You don’t know who has been touching something before you.”