COLUMBIA — Flu cases are down drastically from last season for Boone County as well as the rest of the state, according to statistics from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
The decrease in cases is especially dramatic statewide, with 250 flu cases confirmed so far this flu season compared to 2,939 cases at the same point last year, roughly a 92 percent decrease.
Sarah Rainey, a regional epidemiology specialist for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, said the Health Department has received reports of 69 confirmed cases of the influenza virus this flu season in Boone County. Of those cases, 39 were the influenza A strain.
This time last year, there were 187 reported cases, 157 of which were influenza A.
Rainey can't say for sure why the number is lower but surmised several factors could be affecting infection rates. One is that more people received flu shots this season.
"I think the community has done a great job getting vaccinated for this season," Rainey said. "I can't say that it's the only reason numbers are low, but it sure helps."
Flu seasons are measured from October to May each year and are reported by state health departments on a weekly basis to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another possible reason for the lower number of flu cases could be the effect of last year's vaccine. Each year, the World Health Organization makes predictions, based on previous year trends, on the next season's likely flu strain. For the 2007-2008 vaccine, epidemiologists guessed wrong. According to a study cited by the CDC, last year's vaccine was 44 percent effective; 77 percent of influenza A and 98 percent of influenza B viruses were not optimally matched to the 2007-08 influenza vaccine strains, so many people were not protected.
This season's guesswork has been better. The vaccine most people received is successfully combating the current strains affecting populations.
While numbers are low compared to last year, Rainey points out that reported cases are increasing slowly. She said infection rates tend to peak at the end of February and early March, so confirmed cases most likely will keep rising in the coming weeks.
Even with flu season well under way, a flu shot may still provide protection.
"It's never too late to come in and get immunized," said David Dale, senior marketing specialist at the Student Health Center, which also saw an increase in the number of people getting vaccinated this season.
Students are encouraged to get vaccinated because the vaccine provides some protection immediately. However, it can take up to two weeks before a person is completely immunized, Dale said.
The flu shot costs $20 at the Student Health Center, and is not covered by prepaid health fees.
"It is better for students in the long run to pay the cost than not get immunized," Dale said.
Students can call the MU Student Health Center to set up an appointment at 882-7481.
At the Health Department, flu shots are still available for $20, which cannot be charged to an insurance plan but can be paid through Medicaid. The Health Department also is offering free FluMist, a vaccine mist sprayed into children's noses instead of through an injection. For more information, call 874-7355.