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Vaccinations, self-advocacy keys to health in flu season

Jacksonville Journal-Courier - 2/14/2020

Feb. 13--A group focused on spreading awareness about properly handling the flu is recommending that people talk with their physicians and get vaccinated in the midst of a deadly flu season.

During the current flu season, which began in September and could run into May, at least 19 million people have come down with the flu in the United States and 180,000 of them have been hospitalized for flu-related conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 10,000 people have died from flu-related issues in the U.S. this season.

Central Illinois recently was hit with one such deadly flu case.

Joey Sandhaas, a 16-year-old junior at Glenwood High School in Chatham, died Monday after being hospitalized for a flu case that turned into pneumonia, according to Springfield TV station WICS. A post Monday on the Ball-Chatham School District's Facebook page honored Sandhaas as "an amazing young man with limitless potential."

"Joey was kind, and a friend to all he met," the post said. "He loved to high jump in track and play basketball. He also loved country music and his dog, Jasper."

Families Fighting Flu is a national non-profit organization that seeks to raise awareness about flu prevention and education. Shelle Allen of Jacksonville is the organization's president. Allen's life was personally affected by the flu nine years ago, when her daughter, Madi, dealt with life-threatening flu-related issues.

When her daughter got the flu, Allen said, she didn't worry too much, believing the flu wasn't something that could endanger someone as young as Madi, then a healthy 12-year-old. The flu shot was not available when Madi got her physical that year and Allen didn't think it was anything to worry about.

"I just put it on my to-do list and didn't make it a priority," Allen said. "That is the regret and the guilt that I will live with for the rest of my life."

Madi's flu also developed into pneumonia and she ended up spending 93 days at St. Louis Children's Hospital, including two months in the pediatric intensive care unit and a month on the hospital's rehabilitation floor. She still has a cough related to scar tissue in her lungs and struggles with her endurance, according to her story on the Families Fighting Flu website.

The ordeal taught Allen that people needed to be their own advocates when it comes to their health care and to be proactive when talking to doctors about what they need to do to stay healthy.

People should get a flu vaccination each season, Allen said. While the vaccine is no guarantee that a person won't get the flu, Allen said, any level of protection is better than none.

"When we get in our car, what's the first thing that we do? We put our seat belt on," Allen said. "Can you tell me 100 percent that a seat belt is going to save your life in a car accident -- but it's the best chance that you got."

Allen recommended that people suffering flu-like symptoms check with a doctor to confirm the diagnosis and to find out what they need to do to help ensure a safe recovery. She advised against researching the flu online, which could provide dangerously incorrect information.

"Google is not a doctor, it's not a scientist," Allen said. "You really have to depend on your healthcare provider."

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