Reports have been coming in across the state regarding the influenza epidemic that is sweeping the plains.

That epidemic has arrived in Dodge City.

"There’s absolutely a flu outbreak," Western Plains Medical Complex marketing director Danielle Stroud said. "We’ve seen a large number of ER visits due to the flu.

"Our numbers have surged and we’ve taken a lot of precautions to protect our patients, visitors, employees and physicians.

"We’ve limited our number of visitors in the ER, and throughout the hospital.

"We’ve requested that children do not visit during the flu season."

According to Stroud, flu-like symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches.

Family Practice Associates has also seen a slight increase in flue cases.

"We have seen a mild increase in the number of flu cases at the office," Dr. R.C. Trotter said. "The best defense is good hand-washing and staying away from those that are sick.

"Also getting the flu vaccine though it is not as effective as in years past still mitigates some of the effects of the disease."

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, influenza this season has been the direct cause of death in 48 cases while being a contributing factor in 22 deaths in the state.

KDHE say its influenza reporting seasons run from Sept. 1 through May 31 of the following year and that influenza and pneumonia frequently occur together during a flu season resulting in reporting of both on death certificates.

With the tie-in with pneumonia, there were 163 deaths directly caused by pneumonia with it being a contributing factor in 530 deaths.

The total deaths of direct and/or being the contributing cause with pneumonia and influenza is 763 as reported by the KDHE division of health bureau of epidemiology and public health informatics as of Jan. 29.

The flu has also hit area school districts.

Last week, several news outlets reported that Kiowa County had to shut down classes on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 to sanitize the school.

USD 443 public information officer Yvonda Offerle gave a listing of the number of students who have missed class within the past week:

Soule Elementary, 10-15; Beeson Elementary, 20; 60 at Comanche Middle School; 58 at Ross Elementary; Miller Elementary, 6; about 30 at Northwest Elementary; Sunnyside Elementary, 10; Central Elementary, 19; Linn Elementary, 35; Bright Beginnings, 20 and Wilroads Gardens, 8.

"These are just 'absent due to illness' numbers," Offerle said. "We don’t specify what illness.

"The numbers are the average from the past week (daily averages), but you have to remember the number of students we have.

"We are implementing additional cleaning methods, we are not asking for doctor’s notes when a child misses more than 3 days (to encourage more children to stay home if they are ill) and we are sending educational information to parents and students."

According to Offerle, there are about 3,500 students in grades 6-12 and about 3,200 in K-5 with another 500 in Bright Beginnings/Early Head Start. Bucklin USD 459 stated they had not been hit as extreme as some other school districts with Sacred Heart Cathedral School reporting not having been effected yet with students being out.

"We’re encouraging people to limit their visits to the hospital during this time so that we can better protect our patients, visitors, employees and physicians during this flu season," Stroud said. "Ways that the public can better protect themselves during this flu season is to stay home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, cover your cough and wash your hands with soap and water or using alcohol based hand sanitizers."

To contact the writer email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com