The number of influenza cases have skyrocketed nationwide in recent weeks, and those numbers are being mirrored at a Topeka hospital, with influenza cases nearly tripling since early December.
Stormont Vail Health reported 74 cases of Type A influenza and three cases of Type B during the week ending Dec. 16, spokeswoman Rebecca Witte said. But in the week ending Jan. 6, those numbers jumped to 210 Type A cases and 17 Type B cases.
University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus began seeing elevated influenza cases during the last week of December, said spokeswoman Tyra Palmer. From Dec. 27, 2017, through Jan. 2, 2018, there were 27 confirmed cases Type A cases and two Type B. The following week, the total number of confirmed cases rose to 44.
“The peak is hitting earlier this year, but the numbers so far are consistent with last year’s peak,” she said.
Area health authorities are encouraging Kansans to get vaccinated, despite concerns raised nationally that the flu vaccine is not as effective against one strain of flu, the H3N2 viruses, this year.
“Realistically, what we’re noticing is that, yes, the strain that they anticipated was not the strain that we are seeing,” said Craig Barnes, interim spokesman for the Shawnee County Health Department. “But we would still recommend that people get their flu vaccine on the chance that it would at least lessen the effects of the flu and make it a little bit easier for them to combat it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded online to reports that the flu vaccine this year is only 10 percent effective, explaining that number being reported is an estimate from Australia’s most recent flu season relating to the H3N2 virus. Typically, the year’s flu season hits Australia before it hits the United States.
“In the United States last season, overall vaccine effectiveness against all circulating flu viruses was 39 percent, and VE (vaccine effectiveness) was only a bit lower (32 percent) against H3N2 viruses,” the CDC said. “Vaccine effectiveness against other flu viruses (i.e., H1N1 or B viruses) was higher.”
The CDC said it’s too early to estimate this year’s U.S. flu vaccine effectiveness.
Korri Phillips, M.D., medical director of Stormont Vail’s urgent care clinics, agreed with Barnes that the vaccine can lower the flu’s impact.
“For the majority of the people that have gotten their flu shots, the fever has been a little bit lower, 101 or 102,” she said. “For some people who haven’t gotten their flu shots, it’s 103. The fever lasts for three to five days, usually. The whole illness lasts for about five to seven days.”
In addition, the flu shot can lessen the chance of developing secondary illnesses from the flu, such as pneumonia or meningitis, Phillips said.
The flu is characterized by a rapid onset, fever, body aches, chills and a deep cough, Phillips said. When the flu becomes widespread as it is right now, she said they stop testing everybody for it and call the diagnoses “influenza-like illnesses.”
The urgent care clinics have been inundated with patients, seeing about 200 to 250 people per day, with about one-third of those having flu or influenza-like illnesses, Phillips said. Stormont hospital beds are full.
People who are not in high-risk groups do not necessarily need to see a doctor for the flu, Phillips said, but can stay home, drink plenty of fluids and rest. High-risk individuals are children under 5 (and especially under 1 year of age), the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with significant medical issues such as immune system disorders, cancer and congestive heart failure.
“According to our infection control specialists, the best way to prevent the spread of the flu is to get vaccinated and wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub,” Palmer said. “If you do experience flu-like symptoms, stay home until you’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours, except to receive medical care, and limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.”