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Sherman, Centegra limiting visitors to stop the flu virus

Kathy Aureden epidemiology coordinator Advocate Sherman Hospital updates Dr. Michael Rosenberg assistant medical director Sherman’s emergency department flu statistics. |

Kathy Aureden, epidemiology coordinator at Advocate Sherman Hospital, updates Dr. Michael Rosenberg, assistant medical director of Sherman’s emergency department, on flu statistics. | Photo courtesy Advocate Sherman Hospital

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Another threat?

And if the H1N1 “swine” flu isn’t enough to scare you, officials in the Canadian province of Alberta reported this week that a person had died there of the flu strain called H5N1 “bird flu.”

The most deadly form of the disease that has surfaced in recent years, H5N1 has killed a very high percentage of its human victims. But seen mostly only in birds such as chickens, it has struck humans only in very limited numbers, almost all of them people in places like China and Vietnam who had been working closely with poultry.

Doctors suspect this strain can be spread only from birds to humans, not from one human to another, though a genetic mutation could change that situation at any time.

Alberta Health Minister Rona Ambrose told The Associated Press that the person who died had just come back from a visit to China and in fact had fallen ill while on an airline flight from Beijing to Canada on Dec. 27.

The World Health Organization says that as of mid-December, there had been 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 flu, reported mostly in Asia. Of that, 384 infections — more than half — have been fatal.

But “this is not a disease that’s transmitted between humans. So unless you were in the infected in the area and were in contact with an infected bird, you are not going to get this illness,” Dr. Theresa Tam of Health Canada said.

— Dave Gathman

Updated: February 14, 2014 6:14AM

ELGIN — As the coordinator of epidemiology at Advocate Sherman Hospital, Kathy Aureden spends her days analyzing contagious disease. And she was a key in helping Sherman officials to decide Friday that the hospital should try to cut back on the spread of this year’s H1N1 swine flu by encouraging some people not to visit the hospital.

“Starting Monday, Sherman is encouraging patients to restrict their visitors, especially those under the age of 12, and asking those with flu-like symptoms not to visit,” said Sherman spokeswoman Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson. “The level of enforcement of these limitations will depend on our daily assessment of flu admissions and exposure within the community.”

Centegra Health System had announced two days before that it was going even farther at the Centegra hospitals in McHenry and Woodstock.

“Effective Thursday, Jan. 9, the (Centegra) policy includes no visitors under the age of 14 years old on any unit and limited visitation to immediate family members over the age of 14 in obstetrics and pediatrics,” said Centegra spokeswoman Kim Kubiak. “There also will be a limit of two visitors per patient at a time on all units.

“Those who are feeling sick with a runny nose, sore throat, or fever, should not visit friends or loved ones in the hospital. Hospital visiting hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily,” the Centegra spokeswoman said.

Less than 2009

Sherman’s Aureden said this year’s level of flu in Elgin remains lower than 2009, the last time the H1N1 “swine flu” dominated the American flu scene. Unlike most strains of the flu, H1N1 tends to have a worse impact on people age 25 to 64, who usually are less likely to be severely hit by flu than the elderly or children.

In 1918-1919, an especially severe strain of H1N1 broke out in an Army camp in Kansas, then spread around the world to cause the worst disease outbreak since the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages. Incorrectly referred to at the time as “Spanish influenza,” that killed an estimated 500,000 people in the United States and 20 or 50 million worldwide. Most of those who died were previously healthy young adults or middle-aged people. A person could be healthy one day and choking to death on his or her own lung secretions two days later.

At Advocate Sherman, “we saw the highest numbers during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, when there was no vaccine available that covered that strain,” Aureden said. “Numbers this year are consistent with a more severe flu season than a mild flu season. It is too soon to know if the increase has peaked, as it did last year after the early high numbers seen with that flu season (December through January).”

“In mild flu seasons, it is usually the very young and very old who have significant illness. This year, there are more cases reported in the young and middle-aged adults than usual,” Aureden said.

Aureden said researchers remain unsure why the 1918 strain was so deadly. According to “the Great Influenza” by John Barry, one theory is that this strain especially stirred patients’ inflammation response to action, to the point that the victims’ lung linings became too inflamed to breathe. Since healthy young adults had “better” inflammation responses, they were more likely to have that inflammation in excess.

Health officials say that people need to understand the importance of getting a flu shot.

“It is NOT too late to get a flu shot,” Aureden said. “It does take about two weeks for full immunity to develop after getting the shot, so the sooner the better.

“Even if a person has already had the flu this year, they can still get the vaccine to prevent one of the other strains from making them sick, since there are three strains included in the flu vaccine,” she said.

Kane County Health Department is offering walk-in flu clinics at its Aurora office, 1240 N. Highland Ave. Clinic hours are from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, while supplies of flu vaccine last. The Health Department accepts many insurance cards. Call 866-233-9493 or 630-264-7665 to learn if your insurance is accepted or log on to The cost of the vaccine without insurance is $15.

Flu shots also are available from the immediate care centers operated by the local hospitals and from some drugstores.

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