Columbia sees shorter flu season this year

Monday, March 7, 2011 | 4:18 p.m. CST; updated 9:35 p.m. CST, Monday, March 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — Columbia has seen relatively low rates of influenza during the 2010-2011 flu season, compared with 2009-2010.

According to reports from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Boone County has seen more than 100 cases of influenza this flu season so far, a relatively low number in comparison with the H1N1 outbreak that marked last year's flu season.

"Last year wasn't a typical year for the flu," said Sarah Rainey, epidemiologist for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services. "We almost had a second flu season in April and May and were dealing with a high number of H1N1 cases."

However, Rainey said tracking the flu can be difficult, as only those who are tested positive for influenza are counted in the department's figures.

"Our numbers are just numbers," Rainey said. "Many people aren't tested for the flu or simply don't report cases. Our count is a representative figure."

Because the department cannot be certain of the number of flu cases in Columbia, Rainey said she focuses more on trends than actual figures.

At MU, the trend seems to be a decrease in flu cases in the month of February. 

Susan Even, director of the MU Student Health Center, said 67 cases of influenza were identified the first week of February at the center. Figures from the second week of February showed that the number of influenza reports leveled off at 59 cases, and by the third week of the month, the center saw an almost 50 percent reduction in cases, with 33 reported. 

In response to the increased number of identified influenza cases last year, registered nurses at the center began advising students on flu treatment over the phone.  

Pam Roe, senior information specialist for the center, said that, because the flu is a virus, doctors at the center cannot treat it with antibiotics. And students with the flu are likely to spread the flu by visiting the center.

Roe said most students simply need rest and recuperation to recover from the flu. However, she noted that for students with chronic illnesses, influenza can be a major health issue.

"Students with underlying chronic illnesses such as asthma can be greatly affected by the flu," Roe said. "We will see these students right away because the flu can make these illnesses chronically worse."

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