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Flu hasn't hit area ... yet

Sunday, December 7, 2003

(Photo)
Southeast Elementary School nurse Gina McElwain takes Blake Angle's temperature.
SIKESTON -- Despite flu confirmations throughout the state and in surrounding areas, local health officials say the illness hasn't really hit the Sikeston area . . . yet.

"It doesn't seem to have hit us," said Judy Johnson, Missouri Delta Medical Center emergency room nurse manager, on Friday. "We've seen a little bit of the stomach virus, but we haven't had the full-fledged flu."

Sikeston Public Schools Nurse Coordinator Nikki Vaught said the illness hasn't hit the schools either.

"As far as I know, we haven't had any flu cases in the district," Vaught said. "And I hope we don't!"

Whether it's here now or not, health officials are expecting the flu, which claims the lives of nearly 36,000 Americans and 1,000 Missourians each year, to hit the area some time in the near future.

"People on TV are talking about it like it's going to be one of the worst flu seasons ever," Johnson said. "I guess the warm weather we've had here has delayed people from getting sick."

Missouri has reports of 916 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza from Oct. 1 to Dec. 3, compared with 15 cases during the same time last year. According to Dick Dunn, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) director, that is the earliest Missouri has seen large numbers of cases this early in the season since before 1992.

"People should be on guard," said Kay Griffin of the Scott County Health Department. "We have no confirmed cases in Scott County yet, but we're completely out of the flu shots."

Scott County Health Department started giving flu shots in late September and ran out last week. During that time 3,000 doses of the flu shot were administered, Griffin said, adding that the county isn't getting any more flu shots and recommends those who want a flu shot to contact their physicians.

Mississippi County Health Department has also been out of flu shots since mid-November.

Paula Rost, director of nursing for the New Madrid County Health Department, said they're out of flu shots, too. "We have had a big demand for children and have ordered more flu shots for children only," Rost said.

Children are particularly susceptible to the flu because their bodies have not previously been exposed to the virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Shelly Johnson, MDMC pediatrics charge nurse, also said her staff hasn't seen many patients with the flu, maybe one or two with flu-like symptoms, but that's it, she said.

"We usually see more of it, but this season we really haven't. What we're seeing more of is the RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), even in the adults," Johnson noted.

According to the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia among infants and children under 1 year of age; however, severe lower respiratory tract disease may occur at any age. Illness begins most frequently with fever, runny nose, cough and sometimes wheezing.

This season the first confirmed case in Missouri was reported Oct. 27, according to the MDHSS, compared to last season when the first case wasn't seen until Dec. 31. Despite the flu shot not being available at local health departments, the MDHSS assures there is plenty of vaccine to meet the demand. And in addition to the flu shot, preventative measures against the flu include drinking lots of fluids, taking vitamin C and just trying to eat healthy, Vaught recommended.

"Try to wash your hands more frequently -- that's one of the biggest things we stress with the students," Vaught said.

If a child's temperature is over 100 degrees or if they're vomiting then they do not need to be in school, Vaught cautioned parents. And if they are having a lot of drainage, send tissues to school with students, she said.

Even though it appears the flu hasn't arrived in the area, Griffin assured you'd know it if you had it. The flu is much worse than a cold, she said. In addition to the upper respiratory infections, a fever and an achy body accompany the flu.

"If it's a cold, people can keep working, but if it's the flu, they're too ill to work," Griffin said. "It's much more severe."