Influenza season is rapidly approaching in the United States and Kansas, and the Barton County Health Department has already been busy, Health Director Shelly Schneider said. She joins with state and national health officials in encouraging folks get vaccinated.
While activity remains low, flu cases have already been reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. And, Schneider said, it remains too soon to tell how virulent the season will be.
“I’ve heard it will be hard and I’ve heard it won’t be hard,” she said. But, “prevention can change the tide of that.”
With plenty of vaccine available, her office has conducted outreach clinics and has about 40 more planned. Her staff will also visit the home-bound.
Although the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, it is the best way to prevent flu and flu complications, including those that can cause hospitalization and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends receiving the vaccine before influenza activity begins in your community, ideally by the end of October.
“The influenza vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone six months of age or older,” said Dr. Farah Ahmed, state epidemiologist, KDHE. Being vaccinated against influenza is especially important for anyone at high risk of complications, including babies and young children, pregnant women, older persons and people with certain chronic conditions.
“Getting vaccinated also protects people around you,” Ahmed said. “So getting vaccinated is important for persons caring for young children and those caring for persons with medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe complications.”
Depending on the severity of the influenza season, 5-20 percent of the population may get influenza each year, KDHE reports. Symptoms of influenza include fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and dehydration; influenza may also worsen other chronic conditions.
Flu activity typically peaks between December and February. But flu season can last as late as May.
What else can I do?
In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, Schneider recommends the following actions to help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu:
• Wash your hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing.
• Check on your loved ones.
“These seem like common sense things,” Schneider said. “But, we sometimes forget. It’s a never-ending lesson you constantly have to teach.”
The best part of this advice is that the measures are free, she said. “Yet, they can have a big impact.”
2017-2018 influenza season statistics
During the peak of the 2017-18 influenza season in Kansas, approximately 12 percent of all health care visits in sentinel clinics were due to influenza-like illness. Influenza or pneumonia contributed to or was the direct cause of almost 1,600 deaths among Kansas residents during the 2017-18 influenza season.
The CDC estimates that the flu virus has caused between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses in the U.S. each year since 2010. Those cases resulted in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths each year.
More information on influenza surveillance in Kansas for the 2017-18 season can be found at kdheks.gov/flu/surveillance.htm.
For information about receiving the influenza vaccine, please contact your health care provider or your local health department. Visitcdc.gov/flu/index.htm for more information on influenza.