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Flu influx causes Chicago hospitals to turn away patients

As flu cases continue to surge around the county, some hospitals are taking extreme measures to deal with the influx of sick patients.

CBS Chicago reports that some local hospitals are turning away emergency room patients because they are flooded with patients who come in sickened by influenza.

The station reports University of Chicago, Northwestern and Swedish Covenant were among eight Chicago area hospitals directing ambulances elsewhere because they were treating so many patients with the flu. Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., lifted its ambulance bypass order at 9 p.m. on Monday.

"We aren't seeing very sick people. We're just seeing more sick people," Mary Alice Lavin, director of infection, prevention and control with Rush University Medical Center, told CBS Chicago. "The viruses that were included in the vaccine this year are the ones that are circulating this year but studies have shown that the vaccine is only effective in 60 percent of people."

In Illinois alone, 147 people have been admitted to intensive care units at hospitals, six of whom have died, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck told CBS Chicago.

Elsewhere in the country, the Associated Press reported Lehigh Valley Hospital in eastern Penn. had to set up a special tent outside of the emergency room on Tuesday. The so-called "mobile surge tent" only accepts patients with flu-like symptoms.

Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracked flu rates the week of Dec. 23 through 29 shows a high level of flu activity in 29 states, up from 16 states the prior week.

Of the thousands infected, 18 children have died.

The best way to protect against the flu is to get a vaccine, according to the CDC. Last week, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reported that only 37 percent of Americans have been vaccinated this season, despite CDC recommendations that everyone over the age of sixth months gets the shot.

The vaccine contains one of the strains that is the same as the 2011-2011 vaccine, plus two new viruses.

This year's severe flu season may be driven by a particular strain of influenza A (H3N2) virus that has accounted for about 76 percent of reported cases, the CDC said last Friday. The agency however adds that 91 percent of the influenza viruses that have been analyzed by CDC researchers are like the viruses included in the 2012-2013 vaccine.

Once sickened with flu, people can use antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza to reduce their symptoms.

CBS Chicago adds that doctors are recommending patients who have the flu for two days or less to stay home and avoid coming to the emergency room. Instead they should stay at home and get plenty of fluids and rest.

The CDC has more information on seasonal flu.

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