CHICAGO (WBBM Newsradio) — Cases of the flu in the Chicago area have skyrocketed over the past couple weeks, to levels not seen in years.

Cook County health officials said their hospitals and clinics saw 46 confirmed cases of flu from Oct. 21 through Dec. 24. In the two weeks that followed, there were 103 cases.

Dr. Sharon Welbel, an infectious diseases specialist at Stroger Hospital, said visiting rules are temporarily changing as a result.

“Children under the age of 12 will not be allowed to visit Stroger and Provident hospitals,” she said.

Anyone who exhibits flu symptoms also will not be allowed to visit patients at those hospitals.

Loyola University Medical Center also said flu cases spiked during Christmas week, reaching a four year high of 179 confirmed cases in one week.

In all of December, more than 1,200 patients showed up at Loyola with headaches, body aches, sniffles, coughs, and fever. Of those, 357 tested positive for flu.

“This season started earlier than the last two years, but we’ve had more confirmed cases than at any point since 2014,” said Dr. Jorge Parada, director of Loyola’s infection prevention and control program. “Currently, more than half of all the flu tests we send to the lab are returning positive. In the last two weeks, we have diagnosed as many people with flu as we did during the first 12 weeks of the flu season, which began October 1.”

There have been a total of more than 1,500 confirmed flu cases throughout the city and suburbs since late October.

Cook County Health and Hospitals System CEO Dr. Jay Shannon suggested getting a flu vaccine if you have not done so already, because the flu can be fatal or put you in the hospital.

“An average of 3,500 people each year have died in Illinois due to influenza and its complications,” he said.

Doctors also recommended following the three Cs to prevent the spread of flu – clean, cover, and contain; meaning frequently cleaning your hands, covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and contain the flu by staying home if you’re sick.

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