CHAMPAIGN — Public health officials believe the flu outbreak hasn't yet peaked in Champaign County, and they're hoping to hold off a more severe outbreak by urging more people to get vaccinated.
And don't wait too long: Both the flu vaccine and Tamiflu, the antiviral flu treatment drug, are beginning to run short in Champaign County, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde said Friday.
"There is not a lot of vaccine left in our community right now, especially for children, and not much Tamiflu left either," she said. "We've taken steps to get more."
Hastening the push for flu shots is the return of University of Illinois students this weekend from winter break. Many will be returning from areas where the flu outbreak has been more severe, she said.
Many of those students didn't get flu shots before they left, but the UI hopes to vaccinate as many of them as possible as classes resume Monday, said Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the UI's McKinley Health Center.
With a big push on flu shots next week, he said, the UI could be out of flu vaccine by Friday.
"We have a limited supply, but we want to get that limited supply into people as fast as we can," he said.
Palinkas said the UI has given out about 10,500 flu shots this flu season, and all but about 1,000 of those shots went to students, with the rest going to faculty and staff.
About 25 percent of UI students have been vaccinated, "which is pretty good," Palinkas said.
Last year's fairly benign flu season made it hard to get students interested in getting flu shots before they left for the holidays, he said, but since then there's been a lot of publicity on this year's more severe flu season.
"Now they'll be interested," he predicted.
Elsewhere in Champaign County, Christie Clinic has about 2,500 of the 14,000 vaccine doses it ordered remaining, says its pharmaceutical services manager.
"If we need any more, we can always get more. It's still available," Romine said. "We have plenty, and if a patient makes an appointment here, they'll be able to get it."
Carle spokeswoman Kelli Anderson said Carle also has a limited flu shot supply left through its physician offices, and is ordering more.
Pryde said flu shots are still available through the public health district, "and we've taken steps to get more."
Flu shots are also still available through the Vermilion County Health Department, said Jenny Trimmell, director of community health services.
"It's not too late to get one," she said.
But remember, she and Pryde caution, it takes two weeks for the flu shot's immunity to kick in fully.
Flu severity in Vermilion County may be waning for now, if what Provena United Samaritans Medical Center is seeing is any indication.
Hospital spokeswoman Gretchen Wesner said the hospital had 130 positive influenza cases in December and has had 11 for the first two weeks of January.
Provena Covenant's Director of Emergency Services Dr. Jason Kole said this year's flu season is bad, "but it's bad every year."
He noted that the flu illness seems to be lasting longer, and there's also a lot of gastrointestinal illness going around.
The Illinois Department of Public Health warned Friday that flu-related deaths in the state have reached 27, with 368 people hospitalized in intensive care for the flu. The majority of hospitalizations and deaths have affected people in their 50s and older.
The state public health department said it expects to see these numbers increase as more health care providers report cases from previous weeks and current cases.
Flu vaccine is still widely available, but some doctor's offices and pharmacies are reporting spot shortages, and it's best to call ahead before going to get a flu shot, according to IDPH.
Pryde said health providers in Champaign County met Friday morning, hoping to prevent a more severe outbreak. They're urging more vaccinations and asking people to stay home when they're sick.
This year's flu vaccine, which included three flu strains, includes the predominant strain of flu circulating in the area, H3N2, and the one most likely to put people in the hospital, Pryde said.
IDPH said the estimated effectiveness of the vaccine is about 62 percent, but those who have been vaccinated and still get the flu can reduce the amount of time they're sick and the severity of their symptoms. They also help protect infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases who are at greatest risk for complications.
"We're urging people who are sick to stay home," Pryde said. "The vast majority of people who get the flu will get over it on their own. They need to rest and let the flu run its course."
Seek medical care if you're having trouble breathing or have a high fever, she said. Otherwise, patients are advised to drink fluids and otherwise follow the instructions they get on the phone from patient advisory nurses.