Influenza cases spiked over the holiday season. County health officials anticipate an uptick in illness again as schools re-open.
“We’re hoping that’s not the case, but we’re aware of it and kind of expect it to happen,” Nancy Tausz, Johnson County Health Department Disease Containment Division director, said. “You know kids. Are they washing their hands? Are they coughing? Are they touching things?”
Flu isn’t a reportable disease in Kansas, but doctors and hospitals voluntarily let health officials know how many cases of flu-like illnesses they’re seeing.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment administrators observed a sharp increase in influenza-like illness at the end of December. The percentage of patients receiving care for flu-like illnesses increased from 1.6 percent of patients to 4.6 percent of patients for the week ending Dec. 28.
“We have a higher number of cases right now than we did last year,” Tausz said.
Influenza A, an H1N1 strain, is responsible for most flu cases this season. The flu vaccination did include that strain, however Tausz said the people most likely to get infected with that strain – those between the ages of 20 and 40 – are the least likely to get flu shots.
Those who get a flu shot could still get the illness, but the shot should help limit the severity.
“Everybody’s immune system is different,” Tausz said. “The efficacy of the flu vaccine or any vaccine is going to depend on you. If you’re 85 years-old, your immune system isn’t as robust as say a 20-year-old’s. It just really depends on you.”
The flu typically makes people sick quickly.
“It’s just very sick and very sudden,” she said. “Flu will strike suddenly, and you will have aches and a fever. A cold will come on gradually, and a lot of times, you won’t have a fever with a cold.”
Those who have a fever should stay home from work and from school, Tausz said.
“If you have a fever, you’re infectious,” she said.
It isn’t just the flu that causes concerns for doctors and health officials. Secondary infections like strep throat, ear infections and pneumonia can be brought on by the flu.
“That’s why you should get vaccinated and take care of yourself when you have it,” Tausz said.
She encourages people to wash their hands frequently, and notes that flu vaccinations are still available. She recommend that those who haven’t been vaccinated do so.
“Flu season technically goes through March. We could see more flu since there’s a lot of activity right now,” Tausz said.