CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois is among the 24 states across the nation hardest hit by the flu, but vaccine is still available in most locations, health officials said Friday as they urged people to get their shots.
Statewide, numbers of hospitalizations and deaths continued to surpass previous years and continued to climb. Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said Friday that 368 people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with the flu this season and 27 have died.
Most of the Illinois hospitalizations and deaths were among people in their 50s and older. No children have died. Nationally, 20 children have died from the flu.
Illinois hospitals were asked to enforce restrictions on visitors. The state health department advised hospitals to temporarily bar visitors younger than 18 and to limit visitors to two per patient at any one time.
"There is no doubt we are experiencing a severe flu season. However, we have seen severe flu seasons before and we will continue to work to reduce the number of people who become ill," said the state's top public health doctor, LaMar Hasbrouck.
In Chicago, public health officials got creative in reaching out. The city's health department held a chat on Twitter to answer questions, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel tweeted a question in the form of a photo. He held a sign reading: "Any advice for people who shake a ton of hands? (hash)FluChicago."
To answer, Dr. Julie Morita of the health department replied via Twitter: "My advice is to wash your hands frequently and have hand sanitizer readily available!"
Chicago reported a slight decrease in flu activity this week, but health officials said the dip may be only temporary. Last week there were 31 patients in intensive care with the flu, a decrease from 35 the previous week.
"Our goal is to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated," said Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman Brian Richardson. "We have free clinics across the city and our Care-Van mobile unit is at different locations every day providing free vaccines to Chicagoans." Richardson said there's no shortage of vaccine.