National, state and local health officials are seeing an early and virulent beginning to the 2012 flu season, just in time for the holidays. With a growing number of cases already growing, Kansans are being urged to get immunized.
“There is still time to get an flu vaccination,” said Barton County Health Department Health Educator Janel Rose. “We continue work with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Centers for Disease Control to immunize as many folks as we can in order to better protect the ones we love.”
And there is a need for urgency, the CDC reported Wednesday. It noted there has been a significant increase in flu activity in the U.S. in the last three weeks.
This indicates the onset of an early flu season. This is the earliest activity in nearly a decade, since the 2003-2004 flu season, which was an early and severe flu season.
Closer to home, Pam Chambers at Great Bend Regional Hospital said that facility has seen six positive flu cases since Oct. 1, the unofficial start of the flu season. “That’s quite a few, particularly considering how early we are into this. That is high.”
The Kansas Health and Environmental Laboratories has tested 10 positive flu specimens, including eight influenza A and two influenza B cases.
“Flu season is here and before it becomes widespread, take the opportunity to get your vaccine now,” said Robert Moser, M.D., KDHE secretary and state health officer. “Getting a flu vaccination is also a great way to protect those who are at risk.”
Influenza activity usually peaks in February in the U.S. and can last as late as May. Through the KDHE’s sentinel surveillance network, Kansas has identified two different types of influenza viruses currently circulating, and influenza activity is increasing within the state.
The KDHE reports that on average, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu yearly, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications. During the 2011-2012 influenza season, influenza and pneumonia, a common complication of influenza, contributed to or directly caused more than 1,300 deaths among Kansas residents, and was the eighth leading underlying cause of death in 2011.
In addition to getting vaccinated, avoid spreading the flu virus by covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands and staying home when you are sick.
Symptoms of the flu include: fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and dehydration; the flu might also worsen other chronic conditions.
Nearly all persons six months and older are recommended to receive a flu vaccine. Anyone caring for, or in regular contact with, an infant less than six months of age should also be immunized. Babies this age are too young to be vaccinated and are more vulnerable to the complications from influenza disease, as are pregnant women, people with asthma, heart disease, and diabetes along with adults over the age of 65.
As for the effectiveness of the vaccines, the CDC notes it’s not possible to predict with certainty which flu viruses will predominate during a given season. Flu viruses are constantly changing from one season to the next or they can even change within the course of one flu season.
Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a less than optimal match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.
Over the course of a flu season, CDC studies samples of flu viruses circulating during that season to evaluate how close a match there is between viruses used to make the vaccine and circulating viruses.
So, regardless, officials recommend getting vaccinated.