According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the 2017-18 flu season is off to an early start for the state. On Monday, DHSS confirmed that 1,545 cases of the flu had been reported to them from local health departments as of November 25, 2017.

Influenza cases are starting to roll in, and it looks a little ahead of schedule this year.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the 2017-18 flu season is off to an early start for the state. On Monday, DHSS confirmed that 1,545 cases of the flu had been reported to them from local health departments as of November 25, 2017.

“These numbers could indicate that flu season is coming early to the Show-Me State or that it will be particularly severe — as was seen in the southern hemisphere where flu season precedes ours,” a press release from DHSS stated. “For 2016-2017, there were more than 70,000 confirmed influenza cases in Missouri. If these trends continue, the state could see even more during the 2017-2018 season.”

The Week 47: November 19-25, 2017 edition of the Missouri Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report indicated mainly type A cases with 1,039 Influenza A being report to 487 of Influenza B and 19 untyped. That’s a 67 percent/32 percent split between types A and B.

Of these cases, there had been one influenza-associated death in Missouri as of Week 47.

In the Lake of the Ozarks area, the Miller County Health Department was able to confirm numbers were up compared to the same time frame last year.

Communicable Diseases Nurses Ashleigh Alexander, R.N., said they had reported 29 cases of Influenza A so far this season compared to just one case at this time last year.

All flu cases reported in Miller County so far this season have been type A, none of type B.

It is also all Influenza A in Camden County where Public Health Nurse Joan Mitchell, R.N., reports they have seen 16 cases so far, and in Morgan County, officials said they had two confirmed flu cases in their database so far but were starting to see more reports starting to roll in.

“We know that historically, the intensity or prevalence of flu can vary from year to year. But this year, all indications are that we are seeing more flu earlier in the year and we anticipate more cases,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of DHSS.

There are four types of influenza viruses according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — A, B, C and D, but A and B are the viruses that cause seasonal epidemics almost every winter in the United States. Influenza A has several different subtypes, and is most infamous in recent years for the H1N1 and H3N2 strains.

Influenza A (H1N1), A (H3N2), and one or two influenza B viruses (depending on the vaccine) are included in each year’s influenza vaccine, according to the CDC.

Getting a flu vaccine can protect against flu viruses that are the same or related to the viruses in the vaccine.

The CDC points out that flu vaccines do not protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that can cause influenza-like symptoms. There are many other non-flu viruses that can result in influenza-like illness that spread during flu season.

The nurses of all three lake area health departments encourage people to come in and get vaccinated.

There’s still time to get the vaccine, said Miller County’s Alexander. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to becoming fully effective in your body after getting the shot, but the flu will likely be making the rounds for many weeks to come.

The quadrivalent flu vaccine is available at local health departments. Quadrivalent means the vaccine is designed to protect against four different flu viruses — two influenza A strains and two influenza B.

Call your local health department for more information on getting vaccinated. You may also visit health.mo.gov/flu for more information on the flu and to find vaccination locations near you.

“Now is the time to get your flu shot if you haven’t already,” said DHSS Director Williams. “The flu shot combined with proper handwashing are the two most effective things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones this holiday season.”

It is easy for flu viruses to spread as you travel during the holidays and get together with friends and family. People with flu can pass the virus on to others a day before feeling sick and sometimes for about a week after feeling better, so it’s important to use take precautions throughout the flu season.   

Flu facts

Courtesy Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

How big is the problem? 

Flu spreads every year, but the timing and severity of flu season is unpredictable. The CDC estimates that flu results in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually in the U.S. 

What does flu illness look like? 

The most common symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle or body aches. Flu viruses spread by tiny droplets when a person with flu coughs, sneezes, or talks. It’s important to remember that certain people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia or bronchitis, if they get sick.

Some of these complications are very serious and can lead to death. Those at high risk for flu-related complications include people age 65 years and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), pregnant women and young children.

What can you do to protect family and friends?

A flu vaccine is the best form of defense to protect yourself and your loved ones this winter. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to reach its full protective abilities. Now is the time to get vaccinated so you can protect yourself and loved ones ahead of the upcoming holidays.

In addition to getting your flu shot, take these steps to prevent the spread of flu: 

•Avoid close contact with sick people.

•Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after touching shared objects or surfaces such as door knobs, light switches, remote controls, shopping counters, debit card readers, etc.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

•Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

•Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

•Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.

•Stay home while you’re sick and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.