Flu Shot, Frequent Hand Washing Best Defense
MAYWOOD, IL – The number of seasonal flu cases at Loyola Medicine spiked during Christmas week to a four-year high of 179 confirmed cases in a single week and the surge may not yet be over.
More than 1,200 Loyola patients with headaches, body aches, sniffles, coughs and fever were tested for influenza in December. Of those, 357 patients had a lab-confirmed case of flu, said Jorge Parada, MD, MPH, medical director of Loyola's infection prevention and control program.
"This season started earlier than the last two years, but we've had more confirmed cases than at any point since 2014," Dr. Parada said. "Currently, more than half of all the flu tests we send to the lab are returning positive. In the last two weeks, we have diagnosed as many people with flu as we did during the first 12 weeks of the flu season, which began October 1."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health have designated the outbreak in Illinois as "widespread." Despite recent reports from the CDC that the flu vaccine may not be very effective against certain active strains, Dr. Parada urged everyone to still get vaccinated.
"The season is likely not over yet. If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, put it at the top of your list and get it today," Dr. Parada said. "Since flu can also be transmitted by contact with contaminated surfaces, I urge everyone to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer many times throughout the day."
Loyola implemented its flu visitor restriction policy on December 18. It requires all visitors with respiratory symptoms (cough, sneezing, runny nose) to wear surgical masks at all times while at the medical center. Visitors are also limited to those ages 18 or older.
For the ninth year in a row, Loyola has required all employees, students, volunteers and vendors to receive the seasonal flu vaccination. This season, Loyola colleagues were immunized during a three-day emergency response drill, which allowed for maximizing preparedness training while providing flu vaccines.
"Some jobs require you to wear a helmet and steel-toed boots," Dr. Parada said. "Hospital and clinic staff need vaccinations to protect themselves and others from infectious diseases. Impressively, we were able to achieve a 100 percent participation rate with 97 percent of staff receiving the vaccine and only a few exemptions in a record amount of time."
If you have been diagnosed with the flu, Dr. Parada offered this advice:
Rest, drink fluids and take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen as needed. If you vomit or eliminate blood, become disoriented or suffer extreme fatigue, call your doctor or go to an immediate care center, he said.
"Please stay home for the protection of your community as you are highly contagious and will spread the illness to others," he said. "Your inconvenient bug may be a life-threatening illness to the very young, very old or chronically ill people that you encounter."