The number of confirmed influenza cases reported by Hedrick Medical Center has increased during the last several weeks and now stands at 44 for the second week of January, according to figures provided by the Livingston County Health Center.

The number of confirmed influenza cases reported by Hedrick Medical Center has increased during the last several weeks and now stands at 44 for the second week of January, according to figures provided by the Livingston County Health Center. This number is significantly higher than the first week of the new year, when just 15 cases were reported. There were only five cases of confirmed flu the week before Christmas and 13 the week of Christmas. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has classified the influenza activity in Missouri as having been widespread since early December. Fever, headache, body ache, cough and weakness are among the most common symptoms of the flu, along with respiratory issues. Livingston County Health Center Administrator Sherry Weldon said that individuals testing positive for the flu have experienced a quick onset of symptoms. “It’s not one of those things that you start feeling bad on Monday and by Thursday you’re feeling really bad,” she said. “It’s more like if you start feeling bad on Monday, by Monday night, you’re going say, ‘I’m really sick.’” Some people going to see the doctor for flu-like symptoms may be prescribed Tamiflu, which can be helpful in easing the flu symptoms, said Weldon. Lori Murray, communicable disease nurse at the Livingston County Health Center, said the actual number of individuals with influenza likely is higher that what was reported from the hospital because not all people who have flu-like symptoms are tested for the flu. Weldon stated that the confirmed flu cases have involved individuals from of all age groups. “It used to be that we would see mostly older people who got influenza, but we have seen more varied ages this year,” she said. She said that she has not yet been notified that the flu season has peaked in Missouri and is encouraging individuals to consider getting a flu shot. “Until we peak, we still need to give the immunizations,” she said. The health center offers the vaccine from 8 a.m. until noon, and from 1 until 4 p.m. each Tuesday. There is no charge to individuals younger than 65 or those who are older and receive Medicare benefits. Stephanie Hoel and her two sons, ages 18 and 15, received their flu shots this week. They get flu shots each year for a couple of reasons, Stephanie said. Her husband, David, is an optometrist. “His profession does, at times, expose him to sick people,” Stephanie said. “Anytime you work with the public you are more susceptible to exposure.” Additionally, their sons both have exposure at school. David Hoel’s business, ForSight Eyecare, provides a nurse to come and administer flu shots to the employees at the company’s expense. “They are not required to have the shot, but we do offer it,” Stephanie said. Chillicothe public schools are seeing student absences, with the greatest percentage in the younger grades. On Thursday, 9 percent of the Garrison School’s students were absent. Dewey and Field schools reported 6 percent absences and 5 percent absences were reported at Central School, as well as the middle school and high school. Statewide, a total of 8,187 laboratory-positive influenza cases (influenza A and B) were reported for the first week of 2018, according to the Missouri DHSS. For the same time period a year ago, there were 4,151 laboratory-positive influenza cases. Nineteen influenza-associated deaths were reported during the first week of 2018. Murray suggests that people with compromised immune systems might want to consider avoiding large crowds until the flu season subsides. Although figures for this week had not yet been recorded, local officials estimated that the number of individuals testing positive for influenza will be similar to or lower than what they were the previous week. An Associated Press story published earlier this week stated that what has some people worried about this U.S. flu season was the bad season last year in Australia. That country was hit hard by a flu bug that’s notorious for causing severe illness, and flu viruses spread around the world. Preliminary estimates suggested the vaccine barely worked there, and the U.S. was again facing the same H3N2 virus with the same flu shot. That virus caused one of the worst U.S. flu seasons in recent years, 2014-15, when the vaccine was a poor match, the story reported. It was back last winter but the vaccine was a better fit. Health officials say this year's shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, primarily H3N2. How well it is working won't be known until next month but it's expected to be better than the 10 percent Australia reported. Health officials encourage individuals to prevent the spread of the flu by getting a flu shot, staying home when sick, washing your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer, covering your coughs and sneezes, and keeping surfaces clean.