CHICAGO (AP) - State records show that the flu season in Illinois appears to be peaking early this year.
There are more than 100 more influenza outbreaks across the state this season compared with last season at this time, the Chicago Tribune reported, and the Illinois Department of Public Health said the most common flu strain this season is associated with more severe symptoms.
Current levels are higher than most flu seasons since 2009-2010, according to state records. There were 344 flu-related intensive care unit admissions across Illinois and 135 outbreaks from the start of 2017 through Dec. 31. That's compared with 40 admissions and 11 outbreaks in 2016 and 56 admissions and two outbreaks in 2015.
"Last year we saw the peak in February," State health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. "It might just be starting earlier."
State health officials on Dec. 27 were prompted by the high number of cases to recommend that hospitals limit visitors and take precautions to prevent and control the spread of the flu. Those included restricting hospital visits for those under age 18, limiting visitors to two per patient, promoting hand washing and assessing visitors for respiratory illness symptoms and asking them to leave or wear a mask. Officials are recommending those who haven't received flu vaccines to do so.
Emergency rooms in Chicago dealing with the flu have led to a backup in admission of ambulance patients, forcing ambulances to hold patients longer. This slows Chicago Fire Department responses to new emergencies, department spokesman Larry Langford said. The department has brought five ambulances out of reserve to keep responding to calls, he said.
"We're seeing a high level of stress right now, where at any given time hospitals are on complete bypass saying don't bring anybody here," Langford said.