More than halfway through the flu season, the number of cases reported statewide is significantly lower than last year’s flu reports. But health officials said the number of cases reported in the last week was up 41 percent from the previous week — and that sometimes signifies the beginning of a peak.
Influenza reports statewide increased by 712 cases, from 1,015 the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 5, to 1,727 the week of Feb. 6-12, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services Web site.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the flu is widespread geographically in Missouri and has been for the past two weeks. No single region has had a higher incidence of the flu than another, said Heather Baer, public information specialist for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department.
Flu reports are down from last year, but it’s hard to know if the worst is over, said Lori Buchanan, the public information coordinator for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The number of cases reported statewide this flu season is 2,671 so far, compared to 17,282 cases in the same period last year.
But it’s not unusual to see such a precipitous drop. “It’s pretty abnormal for us to have two really bad flu seasons in a row,” Buchanan said.
No schools in Boone County have been closed this year due to flu. Statewide, only three schools have been forced to close this flu season, compared to 16 schools closed during last year’s flu season. The policy on closing due to flu varies by school district.
“We have no specific policy regarding closing school because of illness,” said Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education for Columbia Public Schools. “It’s something we evaluate as each situation arises.” Among the factors considered is the number of children in attendance as well as the availability of staff and substitutes.
Although it hasn’t been a particularly bad season overall, February has been a bad flu month for Columbia Public School teachers. “It usually starts tapering off in February and March,” said Bobbie Pauley, substitute coordinator.
Teachers at all of the secondary schools and a majority of the elementary schools have been affected. “Even within the administration building we have been hit pretty hard,” Pauley said.
“I have seen some kids with 101 and 102 fevers,” said Linda Evans, Hickman High School nurse. Students with a fever of 100 or greater are sent home and are supposed to stay at home at least 24 hours fever-free before coming back to school.
Evans says she has not had the flu this year. “I’ve built up a tolerance,” she said. She said she stays healthy by getting a flu shot and washing her hands frequently.
“We want to remind people that techniques like washing hands and using hand sanitizer makes a big difference,” Baer said.
“In general, the flu is worse than the common cold,” Buchanan said. Symptoms include fever, body aches, extreme fatigue and dry cough, and the symptoms are usually more intense than a cold. For some people, they develop into more serious problems, such as pneumonia or bacterial infections.
The flu season usually starts the first week of October and runs through the last week of April. “Typically, it peaks around this time and March,” Baer said, but the peak can change from year to year. Last year, the flu season peaked during the last week of December.
With this year’s peak possibly still ahead, Baer said shots are still a good idea. “Vaccinations have tapered off lately,” Baer said. “People assume it’s too late, and really it’s not.”
Vaccinations are available in the form of a mist or a shot. The flu mist is a live vaccine taken through the nose and is recommended only for people ages 5 to 49 with no chronic medical conditions.
“Once you get the flu mist or the flu shot, it typically takes two weeks for you to become immune,” Baer said.
The flu mist is available for free at the Columbia/Boone County Health Department. The shot costs $10, but is currently unavailable at the health department.