Flu Virus Hits Peak Season

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By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Randy Livingston

JACKSON COUNTY --  Flu season is hitting hard in our region right now. The virus is now considered widespread in Illinois and at least 34 other states.

 
The flu season can stretch into April. Right now, the CDC says we're in the thick of it. The virus has already caused hospital stays or even death for some people.
 
Local health groups are starting to see those severe cases. They're urging people to get the vaccine to help build up some immunity.
 
 The Jackson County Health Department went through many doses of the flu vaccine a couple months ago. In recent weeks, their office has been dealing with a second wave of people looking to get the shot.
 
"Now they're seeing the actual flu cases are in our area," said Director of Nurses Karen Brown. 
 
The virus has killed six people and put more than 100 people in the ICU in Illinois. Brown calls the vaccine the best protection.
     
"It's definitely not too late," said Brown. "But it's better to get it now than to put it off."
 
It's a message shared by Dr. Erica Kaufman at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
 
"We have seen probably half a dozen or more severe cases just within the last few weeks," said Kaufman. 
     
This season, the H1N1 strain, or Swine Flu, is making a comeback from 2009. Unlike many strains that are dangerous for the very young and elderly, this virus targets a group that is usually healthy.
 
"Fairly young patients, 20s to 40s, who have been extremely ill," said Kaufman. 
 
Symptoms include fever, body aches, headaches and nausea. By the time a person is seen by Kaufman, the situation can be life-threatening.
 
"Respiratory failure, meaning the lungs become so injured that the person cannot maintain oxygen levels," said Kaufman. 
 
Those infected with the flu are contagious even before they show symptoms. With kids heading back to school and college students returning to classes, Kaufman expects to see the number of local cases go up.
 
"The more people you have, the more exposures you're going to have," said Kaufman. 
 
The vaccine doesn't give you 100% protection against the flu, but it can make the symptoms less severe.
 
Dr. Kaufman is especially concerned about pregnant women. She says the vaccine is considered safe during pregnancy. However, if a woman is still nervous, ask about a version that is free of preservatives.
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