January 14, 2013
Influenza is hitting the country hard this year and Pettis County has been no exception.
According to Pettis County Health Department Administrator JoAnn Martin, there have been more than 400 cases of flu confirmed in Pettis County so far this flu season, but that number is likely inaccurate.
“I’m sure the actual number of flu is significantly higher,” she said. “The cases we count have only been tested at a physician’s office and if an entire family comes in and all have the same symptoms, only one or two members might be actually tested. Not to mention those who don’t come into the doctor’s office at all, they prefer to stay at home and fight it out themselves.”
Flu seasons can be cyclical, Martin added, with a mild or moderate season a few years in a row and a severe season the next. The reasons behind this are numerous, but often mean there’s not a good match between what’s included in the flu vaccine and what’s circulating around.
“Each year, three different strains of flu are selected to be part of the vaccine,” Martin said. “Those decisions are made sometime in March or April to allow producers enough time to make the vaccine. Most of the time they do a pretty accurate job of guessing which virus is going to be ‘the one’ but nothing is 100 percent.”
Martin noted that sometimes those who have gotten the vaccine still end up getting the flu, though the symptoms are generally milder. The influenza virus is categorized into Type A, B or C and so far this year Type B has been most prevalent.
“Type A is the virus that causes pandemics while Type B, some people think, is more common in children,” Martin said. “But the average individual can’t tell ‘oh, I’ve got Type B flu’ they just know they feel terrible.”
Flu symptoms can vary from a mild fever and chills to severe dehydration and vomiting. Those who are experiencing shortness of breath, coughing up fluids, unable to keep even water down for a long period of time or extremely dry mouth should contact their health care provider, as flu symptoms can lead to pneumonia.
“Seniors, babies, pregnant woman and anyone with a weakened immune system are the most at risk during flu season,” Martin said. “We try to make sure those groups get their flu shots as early as possible to avoid the sickness as much as they can.”
The vaccine has been available for months but Martin said the county’s supplies are gone.
“Every year we have to order the vaccine and it can be hard to guess in February what next year’s flu numbers are going to be like,” she said. “For the past few years we’ve had vaccines left over and when that happens we have to destroy them, they don’t keep from one year to the next. We no longer have any vaccinations left.”
Martin suggested non-pharmalogical methods to stay healthy including getting plenty of rest, eating a healthy diet, hand washing, avoiding crowds and staying home if feeling sick.
“I sound like a broken record every year — get your flu shot, get your flu shot — but it really is important, especially in years like this,” she said. “The most important thing now is try to stay healthy.”
For more information about the flu, go to cdc.gov/flu.