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Flu season revs up for early start across Illinois

Illinois’ flu season started earlier this year, and the most prevalent strain is also the one known for causing the most severe illness.

There have been more people getting sick, more positive lab tests and more people being hospitalized this flu season than at this point last year, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health .

So far this season, 115 people have been admitted to Illinois hospital intensive-care units with the flu, according to the state health department data. Sixty-six of those ICU admissions were in the most recent week reported, Nov. 30 through Dec. 6.

Illinois is one of 14 states where flu is already widespread and one of six states in which doctor’s offices are seeing flu-like illness at rates much higher than average, according to a report Friday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No deaths in Illinois have been attributed to complications from flu this year, but last year the season ended with about 100 deaths statewide, according to state reports from last year.

The most severe flu seasons tend to be dominated by some version of the Type A H3N2 strain, which have been detected in Illinois and other states this year.

Flu vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year. This year’s vaccine isn’tt considered a good match for the dominant strain of Type A H3N2 flu that’s circulating. But health experts still recommend getting a flu shot to protect against other circulating strains of the virus.

The CDC is telling doctors to consider using antiviral medications earlier for patients at higher risk for flu complications. That includes children younger than 2, adults 65 and older and people with chronic conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

Besides getting a flu shot, people can reduce the spread of the virus by staying home when they’re sick, washing their hands frequently and covering their coughs, said Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Shelia Porter.