COLUMBIA — Influenza cases increased sharply in the past week locally and across the state of Missouri.
The Columbia/Boone County Health Department on Wednesday reported 283 cases through the end of last week, an increase of 182 cases since Feb. 3.
Statewide, the number had risen to 7,582 as of Saturday, an increase of more than 3,900 in the past week, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Brian Quinn, state health department spokesman, said the numbers are higher than expected.
“These last couple weeks, particularly in the eastern part of Missouri, we’ve seen a huge increase,” Quinn said on Wednesday. “It’s just peaked tremendously.”
People ages 25 to 49 were most affected by the flu last week in Boone County and statewide, and ages 15 through 24 made up the second highest group.
Quinn said he was not surprised that teenagers through middle-aged people accounted for the most cases because they have the highest chance of being exposed.
“It makes sense in that those are the people who are going to school and work,” he said.
Deidre Wood, public information specialist for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, also cited the workplace as the most probable cause for the heavy toll on these age brackets.
“They’re in close proximity with their co-workers. If somebody at work is sick they can spread it,” Wood said.
Quinn said infection can occur before symptoms appear, so it’s possible to spread the flu before you know you have it. The state Health Department continued to encourage the public to reduce the spreading of the flu by washing their hands frequently, sneezing and coughing into a tissue and staying home if infected.
Wood confirmed that the county Health Department is still giving away free flu vaccinations and encouraged those who have not had the shot to get it. Although the vaccination doesn’t reach its peak effectiveness for two weeks, it still provides better protection than no vaccination at all.