Health Care

Kansas takes over as nation’s flu hotspot, according to smart thermometer

Which thermometer should you use?

Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, Chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Section at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics, discuses thermometers.
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Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, Chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Section at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics, discuses thermometers.

Move over, Missouri. Kansas is now the nation’s hotspot for flu-like symptoms, according to Kinsa smart thermometer data.

Kinsa, one of several companies that make thermometers that connect to smartphones, has produced data on flu-like symptoms for the last two years that has been similar to the information from the Centers for Disease Control, but with less lag time.

The company reported this week that Kansas had surpassed Missouri to take the nation’s top spot in percentage of people showing flu-like symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat and chills. Kansas was at 6.6 percent and Missouri was at 6.5 percent. Iowa ranked third at 6.3 percent and the national average was 5 percent.

That fits with the latest reports from state health departments, which show a slight downturn in Missouri and a continuing increase in Kansas as of last week.

Sandra Archer, a primary care physician with Shawnee Mission Health, said the health system was seeing plenty of flu in doctors offices, urgent care clinics and in Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s emergency department.

Shawnee Mission Health is giving free flu shots at four locations Thursday and Friday and Archer said there’s no limit on how many they will give.

“The hospital has told me, ‘When you run out, we will resupply,’ ” Archer said. “They won’t give me a number, so that tells me they just want people to get it.”

Randall Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said he’s also strongly urging Missourians to get the shot.

Flu activity is still very high there, he said, and there’s no telling whether it has truly peaked or if the recent drop was just a blip.

It’s also common to have multiple peaks in a single flu season, he said.

“I don’t want anybody to get the message that it’s OK to not get a flu shot now, or it’s OK to relax,” Williams said. “We know historically we’ve had peaks of the flu as late as March.”

This year’s vaccine is estimated to prevent 10 to 30 percent of cases caused by influenza A H3N2, which has been the predominant strain so far this season. But medical professionals say it seems to lessen the effects of the flu for people who get it and it’s more effective against strains of influenza B, which tend to peak later in the season.

Health officials also recommend frequent hand-washing and covering coughs to prevent the spread of the flu.

The flu, or influenza, is a contagious viral infection that usually can be treated at home with rest and fluids. But in some people — most often the elderly, children and people with underlying medical conditions — it causes serious and even fatal breathing difficulties.

Missouri has reported at least 888 influenza and pneumonia related deaths this season and Kansas has reported 763.

The CDC has said this year’s flu season is already the worst the nation has seen since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and though most cases don’t result in hospitalizations, it has strained hospitals nationwide.

According to data from the Mid-America Regional Council and the Missouri Hospital Association obtained through an open records request, 16 out of 35 emergency rooms in the Kansas City metro area were diverting ambulances to other facilities for at least part of the day on Jan. 10.

That was the most diversions in a single day between Jan. 1 and Jan. 29. There were 13 emergency rooms on diversion for at least part of the day on Jan. 9 and Jan. 11.

There’s also been a run this year on Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that can reduce the duration and severity of the flu.

According to an analysis by GoodRx, a website that tracks prescription drug prices, medical providers in Missouri have written 13 times more prescriptions for the medication this year than they had at the same time last year. Kansas providers had written 11 times more.

Archer said Tamiflu’s manufacturer has reported no nationwide shortage of the medication, but there have been scattered reports of pharmacies running out.

“I think the challenge they’re having is getting it to the pharmacies in a timely fashion,” Archer said.

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso