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Area hospitals still seeing large numbers of flu cases

A Fluzone influenza vaccine is shown at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in San Francisco. | Jeff Chiu/AP photo

The number of confirmed flu cases at Chicago-area hospitals continued to surge this week, as the city — much like the rest of the nation — grapples with one of the worst flu seasons in years.

Rush University Medical Center reported 156 flu cases so far in January, compared with 27 cases during the first two weeks of January 2017, a spokeswoman there said.

Doctors with Loyola Medicine had seen a slight dip in cases for the week ending Jan. 5, with 150 cases. That compares to 179 cases for the week ending Dec. 30. But the number spiked last week, with 190 cases, a spokeswoman there said.

Numbers were not immediately available for Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which has also seen an unusually large number of flu cases this season. New data was expected Friday.

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, doctors have seen a “more significant” number of patients with flu-like symptoms that in years past.

“The volume of flu-like symptoms is increasing this year, but not to the point — at least in our ER department — where we are opening an annex for the flu,” said Dr. Chris Hogrefe, an emergency room doctor since 2011.

Some hospitals in California have set up tents in their parking lots to handle the huge numbers of flu patients, according to media reports there. Health experts still recommend a flu vaccination for most people because even though it may not prevent this year’s most prevalent strain — H3N2 — it still may lessen the duration and severity of symptoms.

“While this flu is more severe and is occurring earlier than last year, we’re not aware of anything in our area at the levels currently taxing facilities in California,” said Kelley Bemis, Enhanced Surveillance Program Manager for the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Nadia Qureshi is a pediatric doctor of infectious diseases with Loyola Medicine. She said she started seeing flu cases back in November, when they had typically begin appearing in December or January. She’s noticed, she said, that those who have been vaccinated fare the best.

“The ones who have been vaccinated, either they do not get the flu or the duration of the illness is much shorter,” Qureshi said, noting that the length of illness can be reduced from five to seven days down to one or two days.

Does she think the region has seen the worst of the flu?

“It looks like it’s still peaking,” she said.