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City’s flu cases hit higher peak than last season

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Updated: February 24, 2014 1:10PM

The number of serious flu cases in Chicago climbed higher last week than any week last flu season.

The latest report from the city’s Department of Public Health also showed the number of flu cases has continued to increase at a steady pace throughout this flu season.

Thirty-seven influenza-associated cases were reported in Chicago hospitals’ intensive care units for the week of Dec. 11, the most recent data available. That’s one more than last flu season’s peak, reached the week of Dec. 28, 2012.

Because flu tends to be unpredictable, it’s impossible to tell if this year will end up outpacing last year, which was considered a bad season, said Dr. Julie Morita, the department’s medical director.

“What we can say is that many people are getting hospitalized, many people are going into the ICU and that what we are seeing is that it’s younger people with underlying health conditions,” Morita said.

Most of this year’s flu viruses are H1N1, which was the strain responsible for the 2009 “swine” flu pandemic and more than 18,000 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital reported seeing a “dramatic” increase in the number of flu cases in recent weeks.

As of Jan. 18, Northwestern has confirmed 166 flu cases this season. By the end of flu season last year, the hospital confirmed a total of 497 cases of the flu, 376 of which had occurred as of Jan. 12, 2013.

But other hospitals, such as Rush University Medical Center and the University of Chicago Medicine, said the number of flu cases they’ve seen so far was either on par with a typical flu season or below.

Still, U. of C. put restrictions on which visitors could come to its hospitals because “dozens of flu cases” had been reported in Illinois and “we are only halfway through the season.”

“We have seen a similar number of patients with flu compared to previous years but earlier than usual,” said Dr. Emily Landon, U. of C. hospital epidemiologist.

Under the restrictions, which are still in place, children under 12 cannot visit patients who are in the hospital, because sometimes children who have the flu do not show signs of being sick.

Those restrictions are still in place, as are similar limits at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in west suburban Glendale Heights.

Nationally, flu activity continues to climb, with 40 states — including Illinois — reporting widespread disease activity during the week of Jan. 5, the most recent national data available. That’s up from 35 states in previous week’s report.

Experts all stressed that Chicagoans older than six months should get a flu vaccine.

“Patients who are reluctant to get the flu shot often believe that it is unnecessary for them or that it may actually cause the flu, neither of which is correct,” said Dr. Gary A. Noskin, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “We know that between 5 to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu each year, and the majority of them have not been vaccinated.”

To locate the closest City of Chicago clinic or retail pharmacy, call 311 or go to

Most Americans can get their shot free under the Affordable Care Act – both people who had insurance before the new insurance plans took effect and those after.

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1

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