Metro-East News

Flu kills Illinois fourth-grader, at least the fourth death from the virus this season

Do your part to stop the spread of flu at home

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?
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What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

Another Illinois child has died of the flu in what officials call one of the worst influenza seasons in recent memory.

Fourth-grader Johnny Towler died of influenza, according to officials at Barrington 220 School District where Johnny and his older brother attend school. The viral infection attacked his heart, which school officials said is a rare complication from the flu. He died Dec. 31 at Lutheran General Hospital, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office as reported by ABC 7 Chicago.

“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of one of our students, who was very much loved by the Barrington 220 community,” read a statement from the school district. “We have extra counselors on hand this week for any students or staff who need support and our thoughts are with the student’s family during this difficult time.”

This year’s flu season is one of the worst in recent memory, according to metro-east hospital authorities. As of last week, Anderson Hospital had tested 1,179 positive flu swabs out of 4,848 collected; by comparison, last year there were 49 positive swabs out of 351 collected. Anderson has created a new manpower pool, pulling staff members from other departments to assist in patient care as beds are now limited.

Other hospitals also report high emergency-room traffic and hospitalizations, and have established visitor restrictions to limit exposure to the flu virus.

At least three other people have died of influenza in Illinois this season, including a child and a healthy 25-year-old, and Litchfield schools had to close for a few days in early December when one in four children and nearly half the staff came down with the flu.

In St. Louis, influenza has reached a record high, with 1,304 cases reported in just the last week of 2017, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Statewide there have been 17,182 Missouri cases compared with 2,041 last year at this time, with nearly 500 deaths from pneumonia and influenza since October.

Nationally influenza infection spiked in the last week of December, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. At least 13 children have died of influenza this season, and the flu is now widespread in 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Medical officials remind people that:

▪  If one person needs to go to the emergency room, do not bring the entire family. Space is limited and you can expose more people to illness.

▪  Remember that visitor restrictions are in place at all area hospitals; please do not visit patients if you have any flu-like symptoms. People under age 18, pregnant women and anyone with a cough or sore throat is also asked not to visit.

▪  If you get sick, stay home from work and school. Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids and avoid alcohol and tobacco.

▪  You can use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms, but do not give aspirin to children or teenagers with flu-like symptoms, especially fever.

▪  Influenza is typically more serious in people over the age of 65, pregnant women, immune-compromised patients and young children, but it can become serious in anyone of any age or medical status.

▪  While people may use the phrase “stomach flu” to refer to nausea and vomiting, influenza tends to be a severe respiratory illness with fever that causes up to 700,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 deaths a year in the United States alone, up to half a million deaths worldwide. This year’s strain appears to be H3N2, which is one of the more severe strains, according to medical officials.

▪  Vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu, even with a less-effective vaccine this year; even a partially effective vaccine can reduce the impact of the flu. Pregnant woman can also protect the infant both before and after birth by getting vaccinated.

▪  Antiviral treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible, but treatment initiated after 48 hours from illness onset can still be beneficial, according to the CDC. Given the severity of this year’s illness, the CDC sent an advisory to doctors last week recommending that antivirals be started as soon as possible, without even waiting a few hours for the flu test to come back, especially for those at greater risk.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald