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PAXTON — There is no shortage of flu vaccine in Ford and Iroquois counties, local public health officials said Monday, as the state continues to experience a widespread influenza outbreak.
The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department had 60 doses of the vaccine on hand at its office in Watseka as of Monday, in addition to 14 doses at its Paxton office, 235 N. Taft St.
Dee Ann Schippert, the agency’s community and school health coordinator, said it appears there should be enough vaccine left to get through the rest of the winter.
“We can order more if needed but do not anticipate that we will order more,” Schippert said.
As of Monday, 1,725 doses of adult flu vaccine had been given by the health department since September, Schippert said. The agency has both the adult and child flu vaccine on hand, she said.
Schippert said awareness of the flu has caused an increase in requests for flu vaccine in recent days. The flu is widespread and occurring early this season, and, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the nation is experiencing high levels of influenza-like illness.
In Illinois, 368 people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with flu-related problems and 27 have died, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The majority of hospitalizations and deaths have affected people in their 50s and older.
In Ford and Iroquois counties, flu cases have risen over the past few weeks, but no deaths have been reported, Schippert said.
The Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district has had an absenteeism rate of 5 to 10 percent this winter, a typical rate during the cold and flu season, according to Superintendent Cliff McClure.
“It’s not especially high student-wise,” McClure said, “but I did recognize we had quite a few staff members out last week due to flu-like symptoms.”
Meanwhile, Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City announced Monday that it has temporarily revised its visitor’s policy, effective immediately, in response to the flu outbreak. The temporary restrictions call for no visitors under age 12 and a limit of two visitors per patient at any one time.
“We encourage the public to please stay home if ill and do not visit at the hospital until 24 hours symptom-free,” a news release said.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director LaMar Hasbrouck said there is no statewide shortage of the flu vaccine. Hasbrouck spoke Monday in Chicago with Gov. Pat Quinn, as both men called on Illinois residents to get vaccinated against the flu.
Flu vaccine is available at many drug stores, doctor’s offices and public health clinics. Residents of Ford and Iroquois counties interested in receiving the flu vaccine may call the local health department at 815-432-2483 (Watseka office) or 217-379-9281 (Paxton office) for an appointment.
This year’s 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.
The state health department 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 are 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.
Everyone who is at least 6 months old should get a flu vaccine this season, according to Dr. Doug Lanoue at Iroquois Memorial Hospital in Watseka.
“It’s especially important for those who are considered a high risk to get vaccinated,” he said. “Those are people who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu. They include those who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, pregnant women, people 65 years and older and people who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications.”
There are additional good hygiene habits that everyone should observe to reduce the spreading of the flu, Lanoue said.
“The simplest one is to wash your hands frequently to reduce the risk of transmitting germs, or if your hands are not soiled use a waterless, alcohol-free hand sanitizer,” Lanoue said.
According to Lanoue:
— When washing your hands, use soap and water. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Then dry your hands and use a disposable towel to turn off the faucet and open the door; otherwise you have re-soiled your hands.
— Cover your sneezes and coughs. When you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue (not your hands), and be sure to throw the tissue away immediately. You can also cough into your sleeve if you don’t have a tissue handy. Hand sanitizers can also help. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth to keep germs away.
— If you think you have developed the flu do not go to work or school and infect others. Also, drink plenty of fluids, except soda as caffeine is considered a diuretic and may lead to dehydration. Get plenty of rest and contact your health care provider.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.