It's a season that doesn't just feel worse locally, but is documented as being worse than usual.

A map of the country shows that while we might be divided in some ways, we are almost entirely united in a bad year for the flu. 

Every state except for Oregon and Hawaii was reporting widespread influenza activity to the Centers for Disease Control the week ending February 10, 2018, considered Week 6. Oregon had regional activity, one step down from widespread. Hawaii is seeing localized activity as are the District of Columbia and Guam. Only the US Virgin Islands are reporting no activity.

It’s a season that doesn’t just feel worse locally, but is documented as being worse than usual. 

In the Week 6 FluView Report released Friday, February 16, the CDC noted “record-breaking” levels of influenza-like illness and hospitalization rates. 

The report states that most of the United States continues to experience intense and widespread flu activity. 

Clinical laboratories have reported 144,910 confirmed influenza cases, since October 1, 2017, about 77 percent type A, and another 33,130 cases confirmed by public health laboratories. Of course, many flu cases go unconfirmed as medical attention is not always sought.

According to the CDC, a total of 19,398 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported between October 1, 2017 and February 10, 2018 with an overall hospitalization rate of 67.9 per 100,000 population.

Those most impacted are 65 and older, followed by adults aged 50 to 64 and children aged 0 to 4 years old. 

The CDC reported a total of 84 influenza-associated pediatric deaths this season. There were 148 pediatric deaths in the 2014-15 season, but the CDC anticipates that several more weeks of flu season remain.

Overall, the influenza A virus is the most common culprit for hospitalizations, nationwide accounting for 85 percent. 

It should be noted though that of 2,261 hospitalized adults, about 67 percent had at least one reported underlying medical condition that contributed to their health issue. The most common underlying conditions included cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorder, obesity and chronic lung disease. 

Among 211 hospitalized children with information on underlying medical conditions, about 49 percent had an underlying medical conditions, most commonly asthma, neurologic disorder and obesity. Among 170 hospitalized women ages 15 to 44, about 24 percent were pregnant.

About 86 percent of those with reported influenza A, the subtype was H3N2.

But while H3N2 viruses are still most common, there is an increasing number of influenza B viruses being detected. According to the CDC, it is not uncommon for second waves of B virus activity to occur during a flu season.

Locally at Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Regional Health System is already seeing this turnaround, reporting that influenza B is now more prevalent than A. 

For the week of January 28, Lake Regional reported five emergency department hospitalizations for type A, three for type B and another seven for flu-like illnesses. Then for the week of February 4, it reversed to four reports of type A and 12 reports of type B. There were also two cases of RSV and six flu-like illnesses.

Lake Regional’s Express Care clinics saw 55 total confirmed flu cases during the week of Jan. 28.

For a local look at the drastic difference between the 2017-18 flu season compared to 2016-17, the Miller County Health Department is reporting 560 so far this season compared to 248 confirmed cases for the same time period last season.

Regional school districts’ attendance rates are also being impacted. Camdenton R-III Health Services Coordinator Rhonda Franken reported that there is always an attendance drop during flu season, but this year’s has been more significant than last.

According to Lake Regional officials, it is definitely worth reminding people to take care of themselves and to stay home if they don’t feel to help prevent the spread of influenza.  

Vaccine effectiveness

While the flu is widespread across the U.S. this year, health officials say the effectiveness rate of the vaccine is higher here than in other countries.

According to the CDC, preliminary numbers show the flu vaccine in the United States was 36 percent effective in preventing influenza A and B this season. The estimate is 25 percent for influenza A (H3N2); 67 percent for influenza A (H1N1); and 42 percent against influenza B. 

Widely reported estimates for both Australia and Canada put their vaccine effectiveness around 10 percent, a press release from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director Dr. Randall Williams says, “Back on Oct. 10 we predicted this would be a difficult flu season and even now, in February, our message remains the same: get your flu shot, especially for young children who are particularly prone to getting sick and suffering from severe complications. Everyone should get their flu shot, though, especially those who come into contact with children or the elderly, which is virtually everyone.”

An ounce of prevention

Missouri data shows that the 2017-2018 influenza season may be peaking, but it there are several weeks to go until it’s over. That means there is still time to get the flu vaccine. People who are vaccinated but still get the flu typically experience a faster recovery, reduced risk for complications or hospitalization, and a shorter period of being contagious. Missouri DHSS recommends that all Missourians get their flu shot as soon as possible to provide the most protection during the ongoing flu season. Find the closest location to get a flu vaccine at http://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/influenza/

Take the following seven steps to help keep you, and those around you, healthy.

1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them.

2. Stay home from work and errands when you are sick. If you have sick children, do not send them to school or daycare.

3. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the crook of your elbow when coughing or sneezing.

4. Wash your hands often. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.

7. Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Lake Media staff Dan Field, Joyce L. Miller and Amy Wilson all contributed to this story.