CHICAGO (WIFR) -- With Illinois experiencing one of the largest flu outbreaks in the nation, AARP is reminding residents to check in frequently on older family members, friends and neighbors who are particularly susceptible to viruses, and help them get a flu shot if they haven’t already been vaccinated this season.
Illinois is among 41 states reporting widespread flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Illinois health officials have reported six deaths so far, due to flu-related illness.
“Seasonal flu, and especially this year’s fast-spreading flu virus, presents serious health problems for the elderly,” said AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo. “There is still plenty of time for people to get the flu this season, and helping get seniors vaccinated will make a big difference in protecting those who are most at risk in our communities.”
According to news reports, this season’s flu outbreak is similar to the type that caused a severe outbreak in 2003-2004, when the flu shot wasn’t a good match for that year’s strains and there were more than 40,000 associated deaths. CDC officials say this year’s vaccines seem to be well-matched. So far, 91 percent of the flu viruses analyzed by the CDC match the flu strains in the vaccine.
Because adults 65 years and older have weakened immune systems, this season’s flu can be very serious for the elderly and those with chronic conditions. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.
AARP is encouraging individuals to help their elderly neighbors and family members get to their local clinic, pharmacy or doctor to get a shot. AARP suggests keeping up to date on the latest information on flu prevention from the Department of Health and Human Services website, www.flu.gov.
How do you know if you have the flu or just a bad cold? Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and can include high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Some people, particularly children, may have diarrhea and vomiting.
If you have other underlying health problems, call your health provider as soon as you develop symptoms to see if an antiviral medication might help. Otherwise, stay home so you don’t infect others, drink plenty of liquids and keep your hands clean so you don’t spread germs.