Lauryn Schroeder

Enterprise Data Reporter

Illinois flu death toll reaches 50, vaccines still available

By Lauryn Schroeder/MEDILL CHICAGO — The influenza virus is still at large in Illinois, but health officials are saying the worst may be over.

Sabrina Miller, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the state’s death toll has reached 50 and approximately 476 people have been hospitalized in the intensive care unit for flu-related illnesses. The previous week, there were 27 reported deaths and 370 hospitalizations.

However, the department reported an encouraging steady two-week decline in hospitalizations. Nine patients in Illinois were hospitalized with flu-related symptoms as of Friday, a significant decrease from the 30 patients the previous week.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois is among the 30 states still experiencing a high flu activity level since the surge over the holidays.

These numbers are still discouraging for Illinois, considering there were no deaths due to the influenza virus in 2012.  Health officials continue to promote the flu vaccine and say it is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus and avoid falling ill.

CDC spokesman Curtis Allen, said approximately 129.2 million doses of the influenza vaccine has been distributed through the end of last week. Vaccine manufacturers anticipate 145 million doses total will be produced to cover the demand. He said most of the vaccinations are distributed to pharmacies and clinics in September, but the majority is given out from October to early January.

“It’s not unusual for some places to not have the vaccinations this late in the season because so many have already been distributed earlier in the year,” he said. “But it’s definitely not too late.”

Allen did say it may be necessary for some people to call their local pharmacies or clinics to make sure they have the vaccine in stock before heading outside.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director LaMar Hasbrouck spoke with Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday about the severity of this flu season. He said that some spot shortages of the vaccine is a good thing because it means more people are getting the message and taking action against the virus. While there may be some areas that are in short supply, Hasbrouck said statewide shortage will not be an issue in Illinois.

Allen said prices for the vaccine typically range anywhere from $9 to $16 but can reach $40 depending on the medical provider. Receiving the shot from a private physician or clinic may cost more, but some insurance policies cover the shot's fee. After the shot, it takes approximately two weeks for the body to build up antibodies against the influenza virus. The vaccine protects against four strains circulating this year, including the H3N2 virus, which has caused the majority of flu-related complications for patients this year.

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