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Precautions urged as flu hits area

(MCT) — BLOOMINGTON — Flu season is off to an early start — including one influenza-related death in McLean County — and health officials want everyone to take steps to avoid exchanging germs with holiday greetings.

“We’re seeing an increase in influenza and influenza-like illnesses,” said Walt Howe, director of the McLean County Health Department. Hospital emer-gency departments and doctors’ offices are reporting more patients with influenza-like illnesses and schools are reporting an increase in student absences because of illness, Howe said.

“Our PromptCare volumes have been extremely high at all locations, mostly with respiratory illnesses and flu-like symptoms,” said Dr. Lamont Tyler, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center’s medical director of specialty physician services. Tyler treated his first flu patient in November, but numbers have been increasing recently.

Generally, this level of flu activity doesn’t happen until January, said Pam Bierbaum, infection preventionist with Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, Normal.

Bierbaum said the number of cases has been increasing since last week. Patients at Advocate BroMenn have been treated in the emergency department and released, she said. How many people have had influenza isn’t known because cases aren’t required to be reported to the health department.

The death was of a 54-year-old woman in November. Lab test results didn’t confirm the influenza link until recently, Howe said. The woman didn’t receive a seasonal flu shot.

About five McLean County residents die each year of influenza, Howe said. In addition, an unknown number of people die each year with flu as a contributing factor or complication, Howe said.

No one knows why flu season started earlier this year, but it’s happening all over the country. Howe said the past two flu seasons have been mild.

“Everyone wants to get to that family holiday get-together,” Howe said. “But sometimes it’s better to make your greetings from a distance rather than bringing your sickness to a large congregation of people.”

Fight the flu

Tips to reduce your risk of getting and spreading influenza:

-- Get a flu shot, stay away from people who are sick, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, and sneeze and cough into your sleeve.

-- If you’re sick, stay home until you’re free of fever without the use of medicine for 24 hours.

-- People with flu symptoms (fever, chills and body aches, fatigue, congestion, chest discomfort, cough and sore throat) who are at risk of complications because they’re an older adult, a person with a compromised immune system, a pregnant woman or a young child should been seen by a doctor as soon as possible. Otherwise healthy people may try to manage their symptoms but should call their doctor if their symptoms don’t improve after two days.

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