CHAMPAIGN — Consider washing your hands — a lot.
The flu and a few other illnesses that started picking up around the holidays are now widespread in the area, local doctors say.
This week patients have been coming to Carle's convenient care centers at a record pace, according to Dr. William Scott, head of Carle's occupational medicine and employee health.
"A lot of people are sick in the community," Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde said. People are being treated at Carle's convenient care centers for mostly flu-like illness and respiratory tract infections, Scott said. About 70 percent of the visits have been from patients with flu and cold symptoms, he said.
Christie Clinic's convenient care centers started getting busy just before the holidays and have stayed busy, said Dr. Vicki Browder, head of the clinic's convenient care centers.
Patients are coming in with flu symptoms, bronchitis, strep infections and gastrointestinal illness, she said.
"A lot of it is upper respiratory," she said.
Most of the patients who have tested positive for influenza didn't get a flu shot, Browder said.
Pryde and Scott urge people who haven't gotten a flu shot yet to get one. There is plenty of flu vaccine left in the area, they said.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be fully protective. But there's still plenty of time to get the flu, which is now widespread in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu activity typically peaks in January or February and can last as late as May. But it arrived early for the 2012-2013 flu season, and is hitting hard, the CDC said last month.
Besides getting a flu shot, Scott advises frequent hand-washing and using hand sanitizer as a good defense against getting sick.
Some other defenses he advises to fight flu and other winter illness:
— Sanitize areas where germs may spread, such as light switches, phones and remote controls.
— Try and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
— Stay hydrated and cut caffeine, even if you're not sick.
— Exercise and get enough sleep to keep your immune system in prime condition.
If you're sick, Pryde also advises protecting others by staying home and coughing into your sleeve.
When to see the doctor if you do start getting sick?
For many people, flu symptoms can be managed at home. But if you have a high fever or if you aren't getting better in seven days, it's time to see a doctor, Scott said.
After seven days, you may have a secondary infection that may require an antibiotic treatment, he said.
If you're sick and plan to seek care at one of those busy convenient care centers, the estimated wait times for Carle and Christie are available at http://www.christieclinic.com  and http://www.carle.com .