The flu season has started, but there are no early indications that it will be worse than in previous years, a Kansas health official said.
The season’s first flu cases in Kansas were reported last week in Sedgwick County, but no widespread outbreaks have been reported so far, said Charlie Hunt, state epidemiologist for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The flu season generally runs from about late October through March, but Hunt noted that “the hard part about it is that flu is unpredictable.”
In Johnson County, “activity for flu has been very low,” said Barbara Mitchell, spokeswoman for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. So far, the county has had one confirmed case, she said.
Across the state line, Kansas City has had five flu cases reported, said Jeff Hershberger of the city’s health department.
“That’s a really small number,” he said.
The flu season generally peaks in February or March, although the 2009 season — which saw a pandemic outbreak of the H1N1 strain — peaked in October.
Hunt recommends that people older than 6 months get the flu vaccine but also take routine precautions such as washing hands frequently, shielding coughs and staying home from work or school if feeling sick. He noted that colder weather isn’t a major factor in how bad a flu season is.
“Cold, dry air may allow the virus to stay aloft more, but I wouldn’t focus on that,” he said.
Last flu season, influenza or pneumonia was a factor in the deaths of 1,444 people in Kansas, up from more than 1,300 the season before, according to KDHE statistics. Influenza and pneumonia were the eighth leading cause of death in Kansas in 2012.
Hunt said increased surveillance across Kansas in recent years has helped health officials track the spread of flu viruses and any changes in the trends. He said the information reported by about 40 sites statewide can help alert health care providers if the virus is starting to emerge in their region.