According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health, influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is widespread in Illinois.

Carrie Eldridge of Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department has not seen any formal reports of flu activity. She says if the flu is not here already, it will be.

“It’s going to make its way across the country,” Eldridge said.

Jayna Spivey, PA at SIMCA internal medicine in Herrin, said Heartland Regional Medical Center has been very busy because of flu patients in the emergency department, and other family practice offices have seen flu cases.

Peak flu season runs from December to February in Southern Illinois.

“We see the flu even up to as late as late April or early May,” Spivey said.

It is precisely that peak timing that makes this a perfect time for those who have not received a flu vaccine to get one, according to Eldridge and Spivey. It takes two weeks after a person receives a flu vaccine to build up immunity to flu viruses.

“First and foremost, what’s recommended is to be vaccinated. Anyone six months of age and older should be vaccinated,” Spivey said.

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“Anyone with any chronic condition like asthma, heart condition or anything that lowers a person’s immune response should get a vaccine,” Eldridge said.

The Centers for Disease Control said anyone at high risk of developing complications from influenza should receive a flu vaccine, including: children younger than 5 years old, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and people with neurological conditions such as muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

“Many in the media are reporting that the flu shot is only providing 10 percent protection from the flu this year. Ten percent is better than no percent,” Eldridge said. “The flu shot will minimize symptoms if you do happen to get the flu.”

Eldridge added that the flu vaccine will not only lessen symptoms, it will minimize the duration of the flu if you get it.

In addition to getting a flu shot, Eldridge recommends practicing the 'three Cs' — Clean: Wash your hands often. Wash them for at least 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing the “ABC Song”) with soap and water. Cover: Use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, use the crook of your arm. Contain: Don’t share germs. If you are sick, stay home until you are well.

Illinois Department of Public Health has released new guidelines for visitors at hospitals to help keep from spreading the flu virus: Visitors with flu symptoms such as fever with a cough or sore throat are asked to not visit hospital patients until they are well; a maximum of two visitors is recommended per patient; and no visitors under age 18.

These rules have been implemented at area hospitals.

“Please don’t come to visit anyone if you are not feeling well. That’s just common sense,” Spivey said. “Wash your hands all the time.”

The flu is a respiratory virus and is spread by those who sneeze, cough or even speak into the air. Eldridge suggests anyone with flu symptoms see a doctor as soon as possible for antiviral medication.

“It helps relieve flu symptoms. Antibiotics are not helpful in treating the flu because it is a virus,” Eldridge said. “Antiviral medication not only alleviates symptoms, they also shorten duration of the flu.”

Spivey said antivirals can be used as a prophylactic if you have been exposed to flu, such as a parent caring for a child with flu.

Spivey said it is easy to forget that the flu can lead to serious complications like pneumonia. If symptoms worsen, follow up with a doctor.

For more information about the flu, visit www.idph.steate.il.us.

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