RRSTAR: Flu Shows No Signs of Slowing Down in Winnebago County

ROCKFORD —  The number of influenza cases continues to increase in Winnebago County; however, the flu season in nearby Stephenson County has peaked.

In the week ending Jan. 27, 706 new flu cases were reported in Winnebago County, according to the county Health Department. The week before, 517 cases were reported.

“The numbers tell the story that it continues to be widespread in the community and we need to practice the three C’s — clean, cover, contain,” said Todd Kisner, director of the Center for Health Protection for the Health Department.

Mercyhealth Hospital-Rockton Avenue reported 281 cases of influenza in its emergency department last month, hospital spokesman Sean Muserallo said.

Flu-related cases at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center have “continued to climb and have increased significantly,” since Jan. 18, when 60 cases had been reported that month, spokesman Michael Robinson said. An official count of confirmed flu cases at OSF for the entire month was not immediately available.

Across the country, one of every 15 visits to the doctor or health clinics were for fever, cough and other flu-related symptoms, according to The Associated Press. That’s the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. In January, 42 states reported high patient traffic from the flu.

By contrast, the flu outbreak in Stephenson County “peaked in late November or the early part of December and has maintained,” Public Health Administrator Craig Beintema said. That’s earlier than in previous years.

“It’s peaked in January, usually,” Beintema said.

One flu-related death was reported in Stephenson County this season, Beintema said, but there were several “suspect cases.”

“It’s hard to determine if they were actual flu cases,” Beintema said. “They’re probably related, but we can’s say if they’re directly diagnosed as a flu death.”

Beintema said flu-related absences are a barometer for how widespread the infection is in the rest of the county, since children are the most susceptible to the virus and more prone to spreading it to their families.

In that regard, flu numbers were down last week compared to the same time period in 2017. This year, there were 549 flu absences in the Freeport School District over the course of the week, compared to 616 last year.

“We are currently at 3.1 percent of all absences (reported as) flu-like illness,” Melinda Hartman, director of public nursing for the Stephenson County Health Department, said in an email. “Our number is still under the critical 6 percent we look at.”

In Boone County last month, about 6 percent of students were absent from school with flu-like symptoms, according to the Boone County Health Department.

Tamiflu ‘not the miracle cure’

Dr. Jason Bredenkamp, chairman of the Depatment of Emergency Medicine for Mercyhealth Hospital-Rockton Avenue, recommends that people with the flu get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and take ibuprofen. Tamiflu, a prescription antiviral medication, only works for a small segment of the population, he said.

“It’s not the miracle cure,” Bredenkamp said. “Influenza is a virus by definition. It can’t be cured; it runs its course.”

He said Tamiflu is meant for children under the age of 2 and seniors 65 or older; anyone with chronic illness, such as asthma, emphysema, heart disease; patients with HIV or cancer; pregnant women; obese people or those of Native American and Alaskan descent.

“A common misconception is that Tamiflu cures influenza, which it doesn’t,” Bredenkamp said. “For run-of-the-mill people between 2 and 65, it’s not recommended they receive Tamiflu.”

For those who should be taking Tamiflu, Bredenkamp recommends starting within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Area hospitals say they have plenty for those who need it.

Kisner said it’s not too late to get a flu shot, and he recommends practicing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mantra of “clean, cover, contain.”

“If you’re sick, don’t go out and about around town,” Kisner said. “Stay home and recuperate and get back on your feet.”

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