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BLOOMINGTON - Just when you thought we were going to get through winter without getting sick, cold and flu season has arrived.

"It's hitting Central Illinois now," said Dr. Lamont Tyler of OSF PromptCare.

Doctors said the number of patients coming in with influenza (flu) or other upper respiratory infections has been increasing for the past few days.

Monday was their busiest day of the cold and flu season.

Whether the number of patients peaked Monday or will continue to rise isn't known yet, said Dr. Charles Dennis of Convenient Care, the urgent care clinic at Carle Clinic in Bloomington.

Tyler, who works at the PromptCare clinic at the Center for Health at Ft. Jesse in Normal, said doctors are seeing now what they saw last year in late January and early February.

Dennis said Carle doctors last year saw the cold and flu season peak in mid-February. This year, it's hitting two to three weeks later.

"We had a fairly warm January and people were out more," Dennis said. When the extreme cold returned in mid-February, people spent more time indoors, spreading germs, he said.

Tyler theorized the ample amount of flu vaccine in the fall meant more people were vaccinated this season compared with the winter of 2004-2005.

Those vaccinations apparently kept down the number of flu patients in Central Illinois until recently. Flu numbers rose earlier in Iowa and Missouri.

Tyler treated about 60 patients Saturday, about 70 Sunday and was on track to treat 70 on Monday - about 20 more than on a typical Monday.

Dennis expected to see 90 patients by 8 p.m. Monday - about 25 more than a typical Monday. He was treating mostly upper respiratory infections and flu with complications, such as sinus infections and bronchitis.

Tyler was treating patients for influenza, strep throat and bronchitis, and has had several cases of pneumonia.

Some of the pneumonia and influenza cases are older adults with chronic medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, diabetes and lupus, who didn't get a flu or pneumonia shot last fall.

Sugar Creek Medical Associates in Normal and Town & Country Healthcare in Eureka began seeing an increase in patients last week. Sugar Creek is seeing patients with influenza and stomach virus and Town & Country is seeing patients with flu and upper respiratory symptoms, said BroMenn spokesman Eric Alvin.

Because people don't develop peak immunity from a flu shot until about two weeks after getting the shot and flu season is peaking now, it's too late to get a flu shot this year, Tyler said.

But people may reduce their risk of becoming ill by washing their hands well and often, taking a good multivitamin that includes vitamin C, limiting contact with people who are sick, and getting enough sleep, Tyler said.

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