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Southern Illinois hospitals see rise in flu cases

  • Heartland Regional is one of several local facilities that have adopted restricted visiting policies during this year's flu season.

    Heartland Regional is one of several local facilities that have adopted restricted visiting policies during this year's flu season.
    Courtesy of Heartland Regional Medical Center

  • Knowing the difference between flu and cold symptoms is important.  "Sometimes people mistake symptoms of stomach flu or gastroenteritis for the flu that is caused by influenza virus," said Johnston City Schools nurse, Mary Johanson.  "Symptoms of the flu come on quickly."

    Knowing the difference between flu and cold symptoms is important. "Sometimes people mistake symptoms of stomach flu or gastroenteritis for the flu that is caused by influenza virus," said Johnston City Schools nurse, Mary Johanson. "Symptoms of the flu come on quickly."
    Courtesy of cdc.gov

  • At Marshall Browning Hospital in Du Quoin, patients started coming in with flu symptoms the last two weeks of December, according to Infection Control nurse Sue Dixon.

    At Marshall Browning Hospital in Du Quoin, patients started coming in with flu symptoms the last two weeks of December, according to Infection Control nurse Sue Dixon.
    Pete Spitler/Du Quoin Call

 
 
updated: 1/10/2018 3:55 PM

With the most active month of the flu season still to come, area hospitals and clinics are already reporting a dangerous elevation in the prevalence of the flu.

According to the Center for Disease Control, February is the height of the flu season. The CDC maintains that when the rates for Influenza-like illness (ILI) are about 2.2 percent, that constitutes a dangerous elevation.

Many local hospitals, including Du Quoin's Marshall Browning, are reporting percentages well above the danger zone.

"For the week of Jan. 2-8, the emergency department saw 90 patients with 24 having ILI (27 percent) and seven (8 percent) testing positive for Flu A and/or Flu B," said Sue Dixon, infection control nurse at that facility.

Dixon said for that same time period, the Rural Health Clinic and Urgent Care combined saw 315 patients with at least 48 (15 percent) having ILI and 13 (4 percent) testing positive for Flu A and/or Flu B.

Other area hospitals are seeing higher numbers of flu victims, as well.

According to Corinna Warren, system director of infection prevention and control for the SIH facilities, the number of positive flu cases began to rise in early December. In fact, the number of cases more than quadrupled from the week of Dec. 4 to the week of Dec. 11 and has continued to rise since then. The number of patients hospitalized due to the flu went from two or three in early December, to 26 in last week's census.

"Flu A is primarily the flu type we continue to see," reported Warren.

Spokeswoman Rosslind Rice said Southern Illinois Healthcare physicians are "seeing Influenza A with much more frequency" than the B strain.

The SIH hospitals include Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in Murphysboro, and Herrin Hospital.

Other local hospitals are seeing more of the Type A flu, as well.

From Oct. 1 2017 to Tuesday, Ferrell Hospital in Eldorado completed 430 flu tests with 123 of them coming back positive.

Out of the positive tests, 97 were Flu A and 26 Flu B.

The number of flu cases treated at Harrisburg Medical Center appears to be increasing from December's numbers, according to Infection Control Supervisor Karen Ninness.

"In December we had 153 positive flu through our lab; 44 positive B and 109 positive A," Ninness said.

Those numbers come from tests performed with swabs ran in HMC's clinics and emergency room.

"So far in January, we have had 123, with 17 being positive B and 106 being positive A," she said. "We started visitation restrictions on Dec. 28 in response to the IDPH memo on influenza."

Jim Johnson, CEO of Benton's Franklin Hospital said his facility has tested 357 patients with 59 positives for Type A and seven positive for Type B.

"Our providers don't think the flu shot has been effective this year," he said.

Paul Bennett of the SIU Health Services said that problem could be with the manufacturer. "From what I'm reading," he said, "it looks like the manufacturer targeted the right stream of virus, but missed just a little bit, and that little bit made a difference."

Bennett said both he and his wife, a nurse, got the flu vaccine and still contracted the flu. "A number of our staff have had the flu," he added.

Bennett said that having "only about a fourth of our kids on campus" has helped to reduce the numbers there. "We're seeing about 30-40 a day right now and about 10-15 have the flu."

However, Bennett said that will likely change when the students return next week. "When we have 14,000 students here we're going to see a difference."

Local public school officials are just starting to see a slight increase in absences.

Benton Grade School Superintendent Steve Smith said his district has been fortunate. "Just this last week saw a slight increase in illness-related absences at the 5-8 level," he said.

Johnston City Superintendent Kathy Clark said her district had a number of kids out on Monday and a number of staff has also been ill or had family hospitalized.

District nurse Mary Johanson said there are a number of preventive actions that can be taken to avoid the flu.

"Hand washing is like a 'do-it-yourself' vaccine," she said. "People don't always wash their hands well."

Johanson teaches that "you should wash your hands long enough to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice."

Jennifer Barbour, Pinckneyville Community Hospital spokeswoman, stated PCH has treated 30 positive Flu A tests and four Flu B test thus far this flu season.

"We're still early in the flu season and that compares to 21 total Flu A last year and three Flu B last year," she said.

Barbour stated the hospital is seeing a lot of upper respiratory cases in the emergency room that are turning into bronchitis and pneumonia.

"And that's on top of the flu cases," she said.

Barbour strongly urges people to wash their hands frequently and, if possible, avoid work or school if they are ill.

"There's just a lot of really sick people," she said.

Pete Spitler, John D. Homan, Travis DeNeal, and Geoff Ritter contributed to this story.

 
 
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