The flu is nasty this year.
In addition to more people getting sick, the virus has also struck ahead of schedule in Cass County, as with much of the nation.
Cass County Health Department officials said the rise in cases began in mid-December and have continued to increase into January.
“During the second week in December we began to see the number of cases begin to climb,” Cass County Epidemiologist Specialist Amanda Prough said.
In December, 185 cases of the flu were reported, compared to 15 cases at the same time last year.
Local health officials said the number of cases has also continued to rise in the early weeks of January.
So far, as many as 20 people under the age of 18 across the country have died due complications from the flu since the flu outbreak began, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which only tracks pediatric deaths.
“The symptoms are a fever, typically 100 degrees or higher, cough, runny nose, chills and body aches,” Prough said. “It’s like the cold, except that the symptoms are more severe and you get the fever.”
Prough said most adults don’t experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea symptoms with this strand of the flu, but are common in children.
Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States in January or February, during a season that lasts typically from September to May.
But this year’s flu bug is taking a harder bite.
Compared to last year, Prough said that while the number of reported flu cases peaked in February, last season was relatively mild with only 160 reported cases during it’s peak month compared to the 185 reports last month.
Other than taking over-the-counter medicines to treat the symptoms of the flu, Prough said getting plenty of rest is the best method for fighting the flu.
If flu symptoms are diagnosed within the first 24 to 48 hours of onset, Prough said people can see their doctor for an antiviral prescription, but said it’s difficult to diagnose the flu early because the symptoms are so similar to the common cold.
But if you aren’t so lucky, and the flu begins to take a toll on your body, health officials urge those who are sick to stay home from work and school, and to avoid other public places as much as possible to prevent the spread of the quick-moving virus.
Prough said those affected by the flu should seek medical attention if they have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or seizures, or any other chronic health condition.
The CDC recommends that the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
In Cass County, residents are being recommended to get the adult vaccines available at the CVS, Walgreens, Target and Price Chopper pharmacies.
The health department, which does not offer the vaccine, also advises that if a child is in need, caregivers should contact their primary care physician.
The recent surge in media reports of people coming down with the flu has spiked demand for vaccine in the last week, including the Walgreens in Harrisonville, which was temporarily out of vaccines Jan. 14 but were expecting additional shipments later in the week.
The three strains of flu virus covered by this season’s vaccine account for about 90 percent of the flu that is circulating, according to the CDC.
The CDC estimates that people who have been vaccinated are 62 percent less likely to need to go to the doctor to get treated for flu.
In lieu of the early onset of the flu, the discussion of U.S. hospitals cracking down on employees to get flu shots has also come to light again this year, with some workers losing their jobs over their refusal.
A Springfield nurse, Carla Brock, made national headlines earlier this month after she was fired for refusing to wear a surgical mask after receiving an exemption from a mandatory flu vaccination, violating her hospital’s policy.
Brock, a board-certified holistic nurse who has worked 11 years at Cox South Hospital, said she is speaking out in regard to her dismissal because she believed her hospital’s new requirement to wear a mask if a staffer opts out of the flu vaccine amounts to a scarlet letter.
At Belton Regional Medical Center, the policy for employees of HCA Midwest Health System’s hospitals and physician offices is for them to either receive a seasonal flu vaccination or wear a surgical mask when in areas within six feet of where patients are located or where they may potentially come into contact with patients.
According to the hospital, this includes hallways used for patient transport from one area of the building to another, hallways adjacent to procedure areas, waiting rooms, nursing stations, registration offices and empty patient rooms.
At Cass Regional Medical Center, all employees are strongly encouraged to receive the vaccine and it is provided to all staff free of charge.
“At this point, it is not mandatory that every employee receive the vaccine, but this is an issue that our Infection Control Committee and our physicians continue to evaluate,” hospital spokeswoman Sonya McLelland said.