COLUMBIA — The number of reported flu cases has seen a steep increase in October and November compared to the same period last year, according to The Missouri Weekly Influenza Report.
A total of 2,088 flu cases have been reported throughout Missouri since the beginning of October — a 880.3 percent increase from the past five-season median of the same time interval.
The number of flu cases reported each week grew from eight cases in the week ending Oct. 6 to 451 cases in the week ending Nov. 24.
The flu season started early this year, said Sarah Rainey, the epidemiologist at Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The early start of the flu season doesn't necessarily mean that this year will be worse in terms of the number of cases, health specialists said. Flu epidemics are difficult to predict in advance because they are influenced by several disparate factors such as the type of viruses and the number of people who get the vaccine.
"We have seen an increase in cases compared to this time last year; however, influenza is cyclical and the peak can vary from season to season. It is too early to determine what this season will look like compared to previous years," Gena Terlizzi, director of communications at Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, wrote in an email.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the timing, severity and length of flu epidemics vary from one year to another. There are many factors that contribute to the unpredictability of the flu season, including the type of influenza viruses, whether the viruses match those in the vaccine and how many people take the vaccine.
In Boone County, there have been 456 flu cases reported since August, Rainey said. There was a spike in cases toward the end of October.
A total of 866 cases were reported in the 2011-2012 flu season, of which only 32 occurred in October and November, Rainey said.
Rainey said that even though fewer cases were reported in the past few weeks, it's not "a significant decline."
"We cannot predict what the next few weeks will bring with influenza, nor the next few months," she said. She reminded people to "get your flu shots, wash your hands, cover your cough if you are sick."
Flu shots are available for the public at the Health Department clinic at 1005 W. Worley, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., according to the City of Columbia's website. No appointment is needed.
Regular flu shots and FluMist, a nasal spray influenza vaccine, are free for children ages 6 months through 18 years old. For adults age 19 and above, flu shots cost $25 and FluMist costs $30.
Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.