December flu cases surge at St. Elizabeth's; still time to get flu shot

News-DemocratDecember 27, 2013 

— Patients suffering from the flu have been keeping St. Elizabeth's Hospital busy in December, with twice the number of cases reported for this month compared to December a year ago.

Fifty-three people were treated for the flu at St. Elizabeth's emergency room in December, while another 80 were treated at the hospital's urgent care center, according to Kelly Barbeau, a hospital spokeswoman.

At Memorial Hospital, in Belleville, a moderate increase in flu cases has been reported, though statistics were not available, according to Megan Moulton, a hospital spokeswoman.

Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue.

The St. Clair County Health Department is reminding county residents that it's not too late to get a flu shot.

"The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated," said Marsha Wild, the department's infectious disease manager. "We are seeing an increase of the incidence (of the illness) throughout the area."

It remains unclear how many people are suffering from seasonal flu symptoms, since the illness is not a reportable condition, unless a person is admitted to a hospital intensive care unit or a death results from the illness, Wild said.

Statewide, at least 60 people have been admitted to intensive care units because of the flu, with 24 of those cases reported for people in the ages from newborn to 49. There were 36 cases reported for people age 50 and older, Wild said.

Most of the people seeking treatment for the flu at the hospital are those who have not been vaccinated, said Barbeau.

Aside from a immunization, the most effective method for avoiding the virus that causes the illness is frequent hand washing, she said.

"We encourage a lot of hand hygiene -- washing the hands regularly, using GermX (hand sanitizer)," Barbeau said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that, with few exceptions, all people age 6 months and older get vaccinated annually, either by a shot or nasal spray, as the most important step in preventing the disease.

The St. Clair County Health Department recommends that you follow the three C's:

* clean -- properly wash your hands often;

* cover -- cover you cough and sneeze; and

* contain -- contain your germs by staying home if you feel sick.

One of the biggest myths about the flu shot is that it can give you the flu. It cannot, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you develop flu-like symptoms after being vaccinated, it means you probably were exposed to the flu before receiving the vaccination, or during the two-week period it takes to develop immunity after receiving the shot. It also may mean you are sick with another ailment that causes flu-like symptoms.

County health departments do not provide flu shots to the general public, but personnel there can direct you to locations that provide vaccinations. A federal government website, www.flu.gov, allows users to type in their ZIP codes to determine the closest locations that provide vaccinations, such as urgent care centers and pharmacies.

Children up to age 19 are eligible for immunizations through the Vaccine for Children program at the health department if: their family's private insurance does not pay for it; they have an active Medicaid card; their families have no insurance; or if they are Native American or an Alaska native.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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