The flu season hitting the Kansas City area right now is on pace to be “very bad,” according to health officials tracking the spread of the disease over the past two weeks.
Kansas and Missouri are among at least 10 states reporting widespread flu outbreaks. Even as the flu season appears to be reaching a crescendo at the beginning of February, doctors say that it isn’t too late to get vaccinated and that everyone should do so if they can.
“The flu is here now,” said Denesha Snell, a spokeswoman with the Kansas City Health Department. Last week alone, the department counted more than 570 flu cases, hundreds more than the weeks before.
After last year’s relatively mild flu season, this year is shaping up to be worse. Kansas state health officials have noted a sharp spike in the rate of flu cases beginning early in January and continuing into February.
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Missouri has reported more than 9,330 flu cases this season, including two deaths. Infection rates in both states have outpaced those of last year. Kansas does not track overall flu numbers, but state health officials have identified six recent outbreaks, including two in Leavenworth County.
At the University of Kansas Health System, doctors have counted about 400 flu cases since November — at least half of them coming in the past two weeks. Many more cases are not reported, doctors say.
If infections continue to spread at this rate, this year could be as bad as 2015, when flu cases were “very high,” said Lee Norman, the hospital’s chief medical officer. On Wednesday alone, the hospital had eight patients hospitalized with the flu, which Norman said meant the individuals were very ill.
“You have to be a pretty sick puppy to be hospitalized with the flu,” Norman said. “It’s a big deal.”
About 5 million people across the country have had the flu this season, and child deaths are reported every week. Last year at KU Health System, a pair of premature twin newborns, after a lengthy stay in intensive care, went home but were then infected with the flu by family members who hadn’t gotten vaccinated, Norman said. After being hospitalized again, the twins were fortunate to survive.
“It’s unconscionable.” Norman said. “It’s really sad.”
Doctors recommend that people be vaccinated against the flu not only to protect themselves but also those around them and the public at large. Today, only about half of the general public gets vaccinated.
However, flu vaccines are in plentiful supply and remain effective against the disease strains now running rampant in this area.
“People really need to be aggressive about going out and getting vaccinated,” Norman said. “I’ve never seen anyone who was vaccinated be hospitalized or die from the flu.”
For more information about flu vaccines, visit the Kansas City Health Department at kcmo.gov/health/flu-vaccine/ or call 816-513-6008.