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Flu still hanging out in Will, Grundy counties

Your allergy symptoms might not be allergies.

You have cough, congestion and a negative COVID test, so you blame your symptoms on allergies and the high pollen count.

Turns out, your symptoms might be flu.

Yes, flu. In mid-May.

“In my practice at Hedges Clinic, I can’t tell how many people me and a couple of pediatricians in the office have swabbed for COVID, flu and strep,” Dr. Christopher Udovich, medical director at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, said. “And we’re still doing it in the parking lot, no less, in full N95 gear.”

Udovich said that last week he had a patient test positive for both COVID-19 and flu. Some of his flu-positive patients assumed they were battling allergies until they ran a fever, he said. Symptoms of respiratory illnesses and allergies often overlap, adding to the confusion.

“You can have [COVID-19] and allergies, too,” he said.

Flu season typically runs from October to April, Udovich said. Contributing factors to the uptick in flu cases include people skipping their flu shot during Omicron, the lifting of most mask mandates and “people becoming more social,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said seasonal flu is still active in parts of the U.S.

Mary Anderson, infection control manager at Edward Hospital in Naperville, said flu cases started trending upward in March after the mask mandates lifted. But flu cases really spiked these last four weeks.

“Typically, by this time of year, flu season is over,” Anderson said. “We might see sporadic cases here and there but nothing in any significant amount ... as of last week, it was still going pretty strong.”

In addition to flu and COVID-19, “a whole laundry list of annoying respiratory viruses” also are circulating, she said. These include parainfluenza, pneumovirus, rhinovirus and enterovirus.

Will flu cases disappear by June?

“I sure hope so,” Anderson said.

Although flu cases are higher than during the pandemic, they are still lower than a typical flu season, according to Dr. Charlotte Albinson, medical director of immediate/convenient care and occupational medicine at Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers.

Albinson attributed both the rise and fall in cases to people’s behavior, she said. When people social-distanced and wore face masks, cases of respiratory viruses were lower, Albinson said. People should still frequently disinfect their hands and socially distance; they should consider wearing a face masks, she said.

Like Anderson, Albinson hopes flu is gone by June.

“But that’s hard to predict,” Albinson said. “Things are still on the rise.”

One spot of good news. Dr. Alpesh Patel, epidemiologist at the Will County Health Department, said the number of people being hospitalized with reported, “laboratory-confirmed influenza” actually has decreased for the first time since January.