Missouri’s flu activity for 2017-2018 is showing widespread. The season currently is very similar to what was seen during the 2014-2015 flu season, both in the timing and amount of cases reported. A season total of almost 31,000 cases were reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services through the first week of 2018 according to Scotland County Health Department Administrator Margaret Curry.

During the same time period in the 2014-2015 flu season, 32,528 flu cases were reported statewide.

According to the national Center for Disease Control (CDC), the flu virus is now nationally widespread.

“So far in Missouri, the timing of this year’s influenza season has been more typical than last year, which had a large and late peak in January into February, with significant impact into late April,” said Scotland County Hospital CEO Dr. Randy Tobler. “Both in Missouri and nationally, the trend mirrors the ’14-15 winter, with sharp increases in cases in the last 2-3 weeks, earlier than the last 2 years.”

Tobler noted that case reports started appearing sporadically around Thanksgiving, and accelerated in early December.

While the current flu season is similar to the 2014-2015 season, it’s important to remember that flu is hard to predict, but you can help prevent the spread of the flu. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.

“It is not too late to get a vaccine, and while effectiveness has ranged from as low as 19% to a high of 60% in the last 10 years, influenza not only feels like you’re dying, but sadly, many do,” said Tobler. “The vulnerable are the very young and those over 65, particularly with other chronic illnesses.”

Whether vaccinated or not, the Health Department reminds the public, the most important thing you can do is wash hands obsessively and always remember to wash hands or use an antiseptic gel before touching eyes, nose or mouth.

“Since influenza or influenza like illnesses kill up to 50,000 Americans a year, handwashing and everyone sneezing and coughing into their elbow instead of the shared air is critical to minimizing suffering,” said Tobler. “Of course, spread is more likely in closed environments with numbers of people in close proximity, so avoiding gatherings where people with flu-like symptoms might attend should be considered.”

The hospital advises that anti viral agents like Oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and related drugs can shorten the course of the illness but not eliminate it, and are especially important for those under 5, over 65, pregnant women, and those with certain chronic conditions like COPD, Diabetes, heart failure, and others.

The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms: Fever or feeling feverish/chills; Cough; Sore throat; Runny or stuffy nose; Muscle or body aches; Headaches; and Fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

The health department noted that most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.

“If you get sick with flu symptoms, drink plenty of water and other clear liquids to prevent dehydration; get plenty of rest; and treat symptoms such as fever with over-the-counter medicines,” said Curry. “In addition, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. You should stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.”