Editor’s note: The Barton County Health Department is holding a special flu shot clinic Oct. 28. This is the first of a two-part series outlining the impact influenza has on Barton County and what county health officials are doing about it. The second part will appear on Sunday, Oct. 22.
BY DALE HOGG
We all know how we feel when we get the flu. Tired, achy, chilled, congested and racked with a hacking cough.
But, there is more to this miserable story than feeling, well, miserable.
As we enter the annual influenza season, health officials are urging everyone to consider the effects of this illness beyond the physical discomfort. It comes with an economic impact, both tangible and intangible.
“It’s just expensive when you don’t plan ahead,” Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider said. “It can all be prevented by having the flu vaccine.”
To this end, the Barton County Health Department is sponsoring a flu shot clinic for people of all ages from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 28, at the department, 1300 Kansas Ave., in Great Bend. For most people there is no out-of-pocket cost because Medicare and insurance will be billed.
This is being held in conjunction with the county’s drug take-back day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s being sponsored by Health Department and Barton County Sheriff’s Office, and it will be a drive-through drug drop-off, tentatively on the corner of Kansas and Lakin streets in Great Bend.
“County residents are urged to collect their unused and expired medications and take advantage of the safe drug disposal,” Schneider said.
The high cost of the flu
With between 9.2 million and 35.6 million flu cases per year in the U.S., the Office of Technology Assessment reported that the influenza accounts for $1 - 3 billion per year in medical costs. Meanwhile, the International Journal of Health Geographics reported that the annual economic costs of influenza varied from $13,900 to $957,500,000 across U.S. counties.
In Kansas, at the height of the flu season in 2016-2017, about 10 percent of all health care visits in clinics were related to influenza-like illnesses, Schneider said. This number is continuing to climb every year.
A total of 1,557 pneumonia and influenza deaths occurred during the 2016-2017 surveillance period.
When considering getting a flu shot, people don’t always weigh the costs with the benefits, she said. The Health Department charges $35 for the regular vaccine and $65 for the high-dose senior shot — both are usually paid by insurance/Medicare.
Compare this to the doctor visits at a cost of $40-80, depending on insurance co-pays, and over-the-counter meds (pain relievers, congestion meds, cold remedies) and prescriptions (antivirals to lessen severity, medicines to treat complications), and that shot seems cheap, Schneider said. There is also the chance for trips to urgent care or the emergency room, and the possibility of a hospital stay.
More than numbers
From a personal standpoint, there is work missed, and potentially income lost, not to mention the cost of the treatment, Schneider said. In addition, those with the flu expose others in their families and at workplaces, and miss family and community events.
And, if a child or family member gets ill, a parent or caregiver may have to stay home as well.
“Sickness is really just inconvenient,” Schneider said. “Life just grinds to a halt when you get sick.”
Then, in the workplace, “there is the strain on other employees who are over stretched,” she said. For the employer, there are staff shortages, missed deadlines and the cost of providing insurance.
Schools are another challenge. With teachers and students getting sick, and administrators tracking down substitutes, learning is interrupted, she said.
There is another potential snag, she said. “Influenza is the gateway to pneumonia,” which can lead to more serious health problems and complications.
The Health Department opens at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and is open until 5:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and until 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. For more information on the vaccine or for other questions, contact the Health Department by calling 620-793-1902.