TOPEKA – Kansas is experiencing widespread flu outbreaks in most regions of the state, and local and state health officials are urging residents to get their flu shots.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is reporting outbreaks if influenza in long-term care facilities, schools and day cares. Five outbreaks have been identified during the 2016-2017 season.
Locally, Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider said she is unaware of any flu tests being sent to the KDHE lab. But, “I know locally that the rate of visits in our community related to influenza-like illness is rising.
“Getting a flu shot is the best protection against getting influenza for everyone 6 months of age and older,” Schneider said. The department has administered thousands of vaccines since September, but there is still time and plenty of vaccine available.
“It is not too late to get your seasonal influenza vaccine,” said Susan Mosier, KDHE secretary and state health officer. “I urge Kansans who have not yet taken this precaution to do so as soon as possible.”
A good fit
Nationally, this season’s influenza vaccine appears to be a very good match to the circulating influenza viruses.
“For this year, we’ve matched up the flu vaccine pretty well with the strains going around,” Schneider said.
In 2014, the vaccine “missed the mark,” Schneider said and there was a huge spike in influenza cases. “We hope history doesn’t repeat itself.”
Influenza vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone six months of age and older. Infants less than six months of age are too young to be vaccinated and are more vulnerable to the complications from influenza. Being vaccinated against influenza is especially important for anyone at high risk of complications and for anyone who is caring for children younger than five years of age. It is also important for persons caring for those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications.
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.
“This year, the flu shot is recommended for everyone,” Schneider said. “There are no restrictions. Everybody has access to it.”
Normally, it takes as long as two weeks after getting the shot before you are protected from the vaccine.
The impact of the flu
Depending on the severity of the influenza season, five percent to 20 percent of the population may get influenza each year. During the peak of the 2015-2016 influenza season in Kansas, approximately three percent of all health care visits in clinics were due to influenza-like illness.
Influenza or pneumonia contributed to or was the direct cause of 903 deaths among Kansas residents during the 2015-2016 influenza season. Influenza and pneumonia were eighth among leading causes of death in 2015 in Kansas.
Additional ways to avoid spreading influenza include covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, washing your hands and staying home when you are sick.
flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. In fact, they may start as early as October and in some cases, continue through May.
For information on receiving the influenza vaccine, contact your health care provider or your local health department. Call Schneider’s office at 620-793-1902 or visit kdheks.gov/flu for influenza facts.