Flu starting to make presence known in state

1/9/2014

With peak influenza season looming, health officials say vaccine still best way to avoid illness.

With peak influenza season looming, health officials say vaccine still best way to avoid illness.

By KELTON BROOKS

kbrooks@gctelegram.com

It is only the beginning stage of flu season, but Kansas already is listed as having widespread influenza.

"Widespread" means that more than 50 percent of geographic regions in a state, such as counties, are reporting flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it points out the spread of the virus, it doesn't indicate its severity.

"Influenza A has been the majority of the cases nationwide, but most cases the last few weeks have been H1N1 that were submitted to our labs and tested," said Aimee Rosenow, public information officer at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

H1N1 is a subtype of influenza A virus, which is the same strain that causes normal seasonal outbreaks of flu in humans.

Its symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue and headaches. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults.

In the United States, influenza typically occurs during the late fall through early spring seasons. Every year, an average of 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu.

And from 1982 to 2013, flu activity most often peaked in February at 45 percent of the time, followed by December, January and March, each of which were at the peak of the season 16 percent of the time, according to the CDC.

"I can't say it has been worse than it has in the past, but it's beginning to hit the peak," said Ashley Goss, administrator of the Finney County Health Department.

"But we've had positive cases of influenza. It's definitely out there."

Goss said to prevent catching the virus, you should practice good hand washing, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, keep an alcohol-based sanitizer and try to avoid sick people. She also added if you do catch the flu, stay at home away from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

However, Goss said, the No. 1 way to prevent influenza is by receiving the vaccination.

"We definitely encourage everyone to get a flu shot if you are able to. It is the best response to the flu," she said.

In addition to the health department, individuals can receive a flu shot from a primary physician, as well as at Walgreens, Walmart, and Dillons pharmacies.

Goss said a common fear that people share is that a flu shot can make a person sick, but that's not true.

"It's a common misconception. If you do get sick after receiving a shot, it's because your immune systems has already been compromised. Receiving a flu shot doesn't cause the flu," Goss said.

KDHE states that it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. That's why it's better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.

With Kansas having widespread influenza, Kristy Frazee, administrator at the Grant County Health Department in Ulysses, said there has been an increased level of flu in Grant County.

"People have been sick for several other reasons along with the flu. But regarding the flu itself, it's here," Frazee said.

Frazee added that people who had flu-like symptoms came on a bit before Christmas in Grant County, and like Goss, she agreed that receiving the vaccination is "very important."

"The best protection you have against the flu is to receive the vaccine," Frazee said.

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