Flu season entering peak but down significantly from last year

Friday, January 17, 2014 | 7:24 p.m. CST; updated 6:12 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 18, 2014

COLUMBIA — The flu season is reaching its peak in Boone County, but the number of cases being reported thus far is far fewer than last year.

A total of 141 cases of influenza have been reported in Boone County during the flu season that started Oct. 1, compared to 913 at this point during the 2012-13 flu season, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services. The numbers are based on reports from hospitals, doctors and clinics.

Last year's season peaked early, with a spike of strain B in October and November, and a spike in strain A in January and February.

The flu has been most prevalent among people ages 25 to 49, with 47 cases of Influenza A, and two cases of Influenza B reported. People ages 50 to 64 were second with 31 cases of Influenza A and no cases of Influenza B.

Andrea Waner, spokeswoman for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, said it's important to keep in mind that not everyone who contracts the flu visits the doctor to have the diagnosis confirmed with either a blood or rapid test.

Flu vaccinations are still available at pharmacies and clinics. The city-county health department offers the vaccines at its headquarters at 1005 W. Worley St.

The health department so far has given a total of 12,548 vaccinations. That includes 7,561 preschool, elementary and middle school students, or 42 percent of the students enrolled in those grades. That percentage is higher than in previous years, said Lori Osborn, coordinator of health services for Columbia Public Schools. Those students received vaccines in their schools.

The school district each year receives an anonymous donation that “ensures all students grades preschool through eighth were eligible to receive a free vaccination with parent permission,” school district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. High school students can still receive free vaccines through the health department. 

Baumstark said all Columbia Public Schools employees are eligible to receive vaccines, as well.

The health department has no way of knowing how many school children receive vaccines from their family doctors or at clinics, but Osborn said in an email that far more than 42 percent of the student population in preschool through eighth grade has been vaccinated.

Osborn said nurses educate students and faculty on the importance of “good cough and hand hygiene, not sharing items (water bottles, eating utensils, etc.), staying home when ill and obtaining the seasonal flu vaccine.”

The number of student visits to school nurses remained consistent during December and January, Osborn said. She monitors the number of visits weekly.

Waner said the county is trying to compile data to determine whether the incidence of flu this season is on the rise or declining. Statewide data show there were 714 fewer cases reported during the second week of January than there were in the last week of December.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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