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Medline masks gain as flu grabs hold

Dr. SirirBanuchi wears BioMask by Medline an anti-microbial face mask that's first be approved by FDA protect herself from flu

Dr. Sirirat Banuchi wears the BioMask by Medline, an anti-microbial face mask that's the first to be approved by the FDA, to protect herself from the flu virus during flu season. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Flu numbers

In Illinois, nearly 150 people have been admitted to intensive care units with the flu this season, and six have died, as of Dec. 29, the Illinois Department of Public Health said.

The latest numbers in Lake County show an increase over last week. Cases jumped from 69 to 88 in the last reporting period covering Dec. 29 to Jan. 5. County hospitals, which are not required to report flu numbers, did report 56 positive cases over the last two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said flu was widespread in 47 states, up from 41 the week before. But many cases may be mild. The only states without widespread flu are California, Mississippi and Hawaii. Illinois is still classified as one of the hardest hit.

So far, 20 children have died from the flu across the United States. There is no running tally of adult deaths, but the CDC estimates the flu kills about 24,000 people in an average year.

Experts say it’s too early to say if this is a bad year.

Victor Plotkin, epidemiologist at the Lake County Health Department, said the flu season has been worse than last year, but nothing like 2009 when H1N1 “swine flu” sent hundreds scurrying for shots. He said this year’s H3N2 virus is traditionally more severe in its symptoms.

He said the end of January and into February is the height of the season. It’s still worth getting a flu shot, even though it doesn’t really kick in for two weeks.

“Vaccination is the best precaution,” he said. “It will also make the symptoms milder.”

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Updated: March 13, 2013 2:36AM

Perhaps you’re averse to getting a flu shot because of the needle, or it’s something you don’t believe in. Or maybe you are looking for additional protection because you are caring for someone stricken with influenza.

Mundelein-based Medline Industries, Inc., has developed a simple mask containing some well known compounds everyone is familiar with that actually kills off over 99 percent of the virus or bacteria before it can infect you.

Called the BioMask, it is the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared antiviral, antimicrobial medical face mask that is shown to kill or inactivate flu viruses, including imminent pandemic and seasonal strains of flu viruses, such H1N1, Avian flu and H3N2, this year’s dominant flu strain, in laboratory tests.

It uses three compounds most people are familiar with: Citric acid, zinc and copper. The three compounds are often found in cold preventive products.

“They all work in conjunction with each other,” said Brian Tompkins, director of marketing for the Proxima Division at Medline. “Basically, it goes after the structure of the virus. It’s all basically very disruptive to the virus. We got FDA clearance because they are very familiar with what the products are and they are very safe,”

John Marks, with Medline’s corporate communications, said the company has pushed it onto the market in the last six to eight months after the idea received a 2012 Chicago Innovation Award. “We’re gaining some traction now because of the flu season,” he said.

The masks are sold at most major retail outlets around the Chicago area, including Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Target under Medline’s Curad brand. Ten masks come in a box and price ranges from $9.99 to $14.99.

Marks said the masks can be used by someone not wanting to get the flu, but they can also be used by someone who has the flu who doesn’t want to give it to everyone else in the house.

Maybe the biggest hurdle is getting people other than doctors, nurses and actors on “Grey’s Anatomy” used to wearing masks, which still conform to the bridge of the nose and have several pleats and adjustable ear loops.

Marks said they may add colors some day to make the masks more user friendly to those who are mask averse.

“Maybe we’ll make it more design friendly,” he added.

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