Updated: February 6, 2013 2:53PM
Chicago is no longer at the peak of this season’s influenza outbreak, according to its city health commissioner.
Commissioner Bechara Choucair told the city’s Health and Environmental Protection Committee Wednesday that while “the flu” hit early this year and was a more severe strain, the virus is unlikely to gain strength again this season.
“We’ve obviously seen the cases, the spread of the disease happen very early this year,” Choucair said. “We started seeing ICU hospitalization in November and a significant peak at the end of December, early January. And now it’s kind of slowing down.”
Choucair said the number of influenza cases has jumped from last year but that two previous years of mild influenza seasons should be taken into account.
“There is a lot of activity, there is the severe strain that happened but people compare [the severity] to the year before or the year after,” Choucair said. “The reality is that we have an epidemic every year.”
Choucair differentiated between an epidemic and a pandemic, noting that an epidemic strikes any time the illness is above its baseline presence in the area. A pandemic happens when there’s an influenza strain that’s new to humans, the last of which was the H1N1 virus, he said.
In the week of Jan. 20-26, there were seven reports of influenza-related illnesses at emergency rooms. Just the week before, there were double the amount of reported illnesses.
This season Chicago has had 159 ICU hospitalizations due to influenza-related illnesses, compared to 63 hospitalizations for all of last season, according to Chicago Department of Public Health statistics.
Senior citizens and children up to age 4 have been the most affected by influenza so far this season, Choucair said.
Choucair is still urging residents to get their flu shot or nasal spray if they haven’t already. The city still has plenty of vaccines available, he said.