COLUMBIA — The flu, including the more virulent H1N1 strain, took some of the joy out of the holiday for some people in Boone County over the last two weeks.
And it's just getting started.
The Centers for Disease Control says the flu often comes on very suddenly, and extreme cases can be fatal. Flu sufferers can have any combination of the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Muscle or body aches
- Diarrhea or vomiting (especially in children)
The incidence of severe complication or death from seasonal flu is usually more prevalent among young children and older people, according to the CDC. The exception is the H1N1 flu, which is actually more dangerous for middle-aged people.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, those suffering from the flu should:
- Stay at home to prevent spreading the illness.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of clear fluids.
- Use over-the-counter medications to help relieve symptoms. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist about which medicines may work, including any anti-viral drugs that may be used to shorten the duration of the illness.
These suggestions from the Boone County Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services might keep you from getting sick with the flu:
- Get a flu vaccination. Andrea Waner of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Service said the vaccination protects against seasonal flu and H1N1. Vaccinations are still available at many clinics and pharmacies in the area, including the Public Health and Human Services clinic at 1005 W. Worley St. The vaccine is free for children and $25 for adults according to the department's website. Vaccines are available 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. with no appointment. The clinic's phone number is 874-7356.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your nose, eyes or mouth.
- Try to avoid contact with sick people.
Comparing the periods of Dec. 15-21 and Dec. 22-28, the number of reported flu cases in the county almost doubled, said Andrea Waner of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services.
Some of the illnesses were caused by what epidemiologists call the 2009 H1N1 virus. "Of the type A cases that have been sub-typed, they're predominantly the H1N1 virus," Waner said.
Missouri is one of four states in the U.S. that was characterized by the CDC as having a "high-activity level" for flu during the third week of December.
From Sept. 29 to Dec. 28, the number of confirmed influenza cases in the county was 89, Waner said. Thirty-one of those cases were reported in the final week of December alone, up from 17 cases the previous week.
Across the state, flu cases are also up. The number of cases almost doubled from 708 in the third week of December to 1,306 cases in the fourth week, according to weekly reports issued by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Statewide, the proportion of emergency room visits attributed to flu-like symptoms was 2.9 percent in the second week of December, 5.33 percent in the third week and 7.18 percent in the fourth week, according to the reports.
In the last week of the year, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 77 deaths in Missouri that involved pneumonia and influenza.
In Boone County, there were two confirmed deaths of individuals in the 29-49 age group who had the flu, Waner said. She cautioned, however, the department has not determined for certain that flu caused their deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 4,400 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed in the U.S. since Sept. 29, when the 2013-2014 flu season officially began. During the third week of December, 56.8 percent of respiratory specimens tested contained H1N1.
H1N1 is most lethal for middle-aged adults, unlike the seasonal flu that is most dangerous for young children and the elderly, according to the CDC.
"In Boone County, we're mirroring what is going on nationwide," Waner said.
As students begin to return to schools and colleges in the next few weeks — living in dorms and studying in close quarters — flu projections become even more difficult to make.
"The flu season is predictably unpredictable," Waner said. "You can only hope that people take the precautions to limit the spread of the virus."
Getting a flu shot is the best precaution, she said, and flu shots are still available at clinics around the county. All flu vaccinations after 2009 immunize patients against H1N1, Waner said.
It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to offer its best protection.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.