Hospital sees increase in flu patients

Students who have insurance through the CampusCare plan can receive free flu shots by appointment at the Family Medicine Center. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

More hospitalizations from the influenza virus are being reported across the country, including at the University of Illinois Hospital.

“Consistent with reports from the Chicago Department of Public Health, the University of Illinois Hospital is seeing an increase of influenza cases in its emergency department, outpatient clinics and among patients who are admitted to the hospital,” said Maryann Gierloff, associate director of infection control.

“It’s not too late to get vaccinated and we are encouraging individuals over 6 months of age to get their flu shots.”

The hospital is enforcing temporary restrictions on visitors, asking those who have a cough, fever, sore throat, runny nose or muscle aches not to visit patients. If visitors with flu symptoms come to the hospital, they are asked to wear a mask.

As more cases of influenza are reported, it’s a good time to get a flu shot, says UIC epidemiologist Mark Dworkin.

“The bottom line is that the current vaccine does overlap with the majority of that is circulating presently, so it’s a good match,” said Dworkin, professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

Thirty-eight states — including Illinois — have reported moderate or high levels of influenza-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Compared to the last few years, this is earlier for us to observe the widespread activity that’s being reported,” Dworkin said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance providers are required to provide free flu shots every year. Students who have insurance through the CampusCare plan can receive free flu shots at the Family Medicine Center. For an appointment, call 312-996-2901.

Still, getting a yearly flu shot won’t guarantee complete protection from the influenza virus, Dworkin said.

“It doesn’t mean that people who have been vaccinated can’t get the flu — it means if they get the flu, they’re more likely to have a minor illness or avoid hospitalization,” Dworkin said.

Although the influenza strain has reached many people, it doesn’t appear to be a pandemic, said David Marder, director of the University Health Service.

“It’s more the usual flu outbreak right now and it’s not acting like a potential pandemic, which was the concern with H1N1 a few years ago,” he said.

Students and employees should do their best to keep the virus from spreading, Marder said.

“It’s always better to get the flu shot than not to get it,” he said. “If you end up getting sick, the flu shot will cover the strains of influenza that are known to cause the biggest complications.

“And if you’re sick, don’t come to campus.”

Those who are sick should also practice preventative hygiene, such as covering their coughs and washing their hands regularly, Dworkin said.

christyb@uic.edu

 

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