Columbia bitten by influenza bug early

The health department says the supply of children’s vaccines could vanish before Christmas.
Thursday, December 4, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Flu season took off early in Columbia, with the first reported case coming in to the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health on Nov. 21, Public Health Manager Mary Martin said.

As of Wednesday, 63 cases of influenza had been reported, and Martin said the actual total is probably in the hundreds.

Last winter, the first case of flu wasn’t reported until January, Martin said. This year, the flu season hit mid-Missouri early and with little warning.

“This year we weren’t really notified we were going to have an early flu,” Martin said.

The health department is averaging more than 100 flu shots a day, Martin said, “and we’re seeing more children.”

Children receive a different vaccine than adults, and while the health department ordered four times more doses for children than usual, Martin still estimates that “at the rate we’re going, we’ll be out of vaccines before Christmas.”

While the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that the flu virus has mutated into a variant of one of the viruses in the vaccine, Martin said getting a flu shot will still provide some protection against getting sick and will shorten the duration of illness.

While deaths have been reported in Colorado, Martin said, the department has not heard of any reported deaths due to flu in Missouri.

State health officials had confirmed 916 cases of flu as of Wednesday, said Sue Denny of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Only 15 cases had been confirmed by this time last year, she said.

Most cases were in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, although one school in Pulaski County was forced to temporarily close, Denny said.

“We don't have very many counties that don’t have any cases reported, although most of them don't have very many cases,” she said.

At least five children have died from the flu in Colorado. Some parts of Texas and Nevada also have been hit hard a month earlier than usual.

The three strains included in this year’s vaccine are A Caledonia, A Panama and B Hong Kong, and so far, Martin said, most tests have shown people coming down with the A variants. The health department won’t know specifically what strain is showing up until later in the flu season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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