As the new year gets underway, influenza, or the flu, is already in full swing in southwest Kansas.
At the Ford County Health Department on Tuesday, residents congregated in the building waiting for their turn to receive a seasonal flu shot. At this time, the health department hasn't seen an unusual number of flu cases, but now at the peak of flu season that number can easily change.
“At this time, influenza is widespread in the state of Kansas,” Clinical Director of the Ford County Health Department Lori Starnes said.
This season the health department has administered close to 1,800 doses of the flu vaccine, a number comparable to last year. So far this season the number of flu cases in Kansas is slightly lower than last year, but considerably higher than the year before. This season Influenza A has been the dominant strain.
“People may remember the term 'swine flu,'” Starnes said. “This is an Influenza A virus.”
Flu activity can begin as early as October and continue as late as May, with the season peaking in January and February. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccine manufacturers estimate that 138 to 145 million doses of the flu vaccine will be produced for the U.S. market this season. This is an increase from the initial estimate of 135 to 139 million.
Older people, young children and those with certain health conditions are at greater risk to have serious flu-related complications. Last season, those aged 65 and older were most severely affected. From Sept. 30, 2012 to Feb. 9, 2013, 64 flu-related child deaths were reported to the CDC.
The flu usually comes on suddenly. Symptoms may include fever or feeling feverish/chills, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea may occur but this is more common in children than adults.
According to the health department, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot. It is not too late to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccination for those aged six months and older. Those six months to eight years old may need two doses. In addition to the regular flu shot, the vaccine is also available as a high dose for the elderly, pediatric dose and as the nasal spray Flumist. Aside from the health department, flu shots are also available at the Walgreens at 1801 N. 14th Ave.
Other precautions include avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue and dispose of the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Also effective are alcohol-based hand cleansers.
If you get the flu, it is advised to stay home from work or school and limit contact with others. Avoid close contact with those who are ill.