Lorna Schmidt can remember exactly what having the flu feels like: a sudden onset of fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, extreme exhaustion and fatigue, headache, chest discomfort and a cough.
After having the flu once, Schmidt, a registered nurse and the communicable disease coordinator at the DeKalb County Health Department, makes sure she annually receives the flu shot to protect against common viruses that are likely to cause the flu.
To reduce the risk of illness, the DCHD strongly encourages residents to receive a yearly influenza vaccine, especially those with a higher risk of flu, including pregnant women, children younger than 5 years, and people age 65 and older.
And it’s not too late to get one. Most flu seasons run from October through May, with the season’s peak in January and February.
The health department started giving flu vaccines in September to its employees and their families with a Family Flu Night event and the theme “Be a Flu Fighter.” This year, 95 percent of DCHD employees received the vaccine. Each year, in addition to helping DeKalb County government employees receive the vaccine, the DCHD also hosts two large flu clinics at Northern Illinois University for NIU employees.
“You know when you have the flu, and you can always remember how horrible you felt with it,” Schmidt said. “The flu can be deadly, especially for those considered high risk: those that are younger, older or have serious respiratory illness.”
According to a report published in early December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 291,000 and 646,000 people worldwide die each year from seasonal influenza-related respiratory illnesses.
Although most people who get the flu recover completely in 1 to 2 weeks, the Illinois Department of Health warns that some people may develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia. In the past decade, influenza and pneumonia have been associated with an average of 3,500 deaths a year in Illinois.
According to the IDPH’s Influenza Surveillance and Flu Activity Report, the flu has had continuous widespread activity throughout Illinois since the week of Dec. 10. Widespread activity, the highest activity level, means that there have been recent lab-confirmed influenza in the state and an increase in influenza-like illness outbreaks in at least half of Illinois’ regions. Influenza is not a reportable disease in Illinois, but the IDPH examines reports and monitors influenza-like illness at sites including physician offices, emergency departments, health care clinics, nursing homes and prisons.
Although the flu shot does not completely prevent the flu, the 2017-2018 flu vaccine is a quadrivalent vaccine, protecting against four of the scientifically predicted most common viruses most likely to cause influenza. However, there are instances that other influenza strains may appear within a flu season, still allowing a person to get sick. Since there is no live flu virus in flu shots, a person cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
“The flu shot is not 100 preventative, but it protects against common viruses and can help lessen flu symptoms,” Schmidt said. “To stop the spread of the flu, we recommend the three Cs: clean, cover and contain. Wash your hands often, cover your cough and either stay away from those that are sick or remain at home until you are fever free for 24 hours. Having a balanced diet and drinking plenty of fluids is always helpful.”
The health department, located at 2550 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb, has offered walk-in flu clinics for adults and children since September and will continue clinic hours through the flu season. Walk-in hours are from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
DCHD accepts Medicare, Medicaid and most PPO health insurances. When getting a flu shot, bring in all insurance cards, a credit card and a photo ID. Medicaid will be billed or payment of $15 will be accepted for those children who qualify for the Vaccine for Children program.