Cases of flu-like illness are spiking in Kansas and Missouri this month, several weeks earlier than the flu season ramped up last season.
The early spike means things are only likely to get worse, at least for another month or two, said Gary Salzman, a pulmonologist at Truman Medical Center.
“We’re seeing a lot of flu and a lot of pneumonia related to the flu,” Salzman said. “So this has been a very busy season for us.”
The early arrival is not unprecedented, said Tiffany Wilkinson, the division manager for communicable disease prevention and public health preparedness for the Kansas City Health Department.
“It’s looking a little similar to maybe the (20)14-15 season,” Wilkinson said. “It can start earlier than it has been and it tends to peak any time between December and March. But yes, we are definitely seeing an increase in number of cases reported.”
The previous flu season took until mid-January to hit the level of flu activity that medical professionals reported to the Kansas Department of Health Environment by mid-December this year. So far, the spike has been most acute in southeast Kansas.
The level of flu-like illness this month was slightly lower in Missouri, but still “above baseline” according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
The flu, or influenza, is a contagious viral infection marked by fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue. It can cause deadly complications, especially in people who are infants, elderly or immuno-compromised.
Salzman said people who think they have the flu should go to the emergency room if they have a temperature above 102 degrees and severe coughing or shortness of breath. Otherwise they should seek treatment from a primary care doctor promptly, because anti-viral medications like Tamiflu may help.
“If you get it early, that can decrease the severity of the symptoms,” Salzman said.
Some health experts feared the United States would have a rough flu season this year because it’s been particularly bad in Australia, where the season starts earlier. This year’s flu vaccine was only about 10 percent effective against the strain that caused the most trouble there.
But a study published earlier this month by researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that the vaccine is a better match for what appears to be the most prevalent strain in the United States this year.
Salzman said most of the flu sufferers Truman has seen are not vaccinated.
Wilkinson said those interested in getting a flu shot should call 816-513-6108 to inquire about supply and hours of availability.
“We would definitely recommend getting vaccinated, as it’s the best prevention measure even just to lessen the severity and complications from the flu,” Wilkinson said, adding that the shot takes about two weeks to be effective. “I would say the time is now to go ahead and get your flu shot if you haven’t already.”