By Wally Kennedy
The number of flu cases statewide is trending down, but that’s not true in the Joplin area.
That trend suggests the flu arrived later in Southwest Missouri than other parts of the state.
Tony Moehr, head of the Jasper County Health Department, in a telephone interview on Friday, said, “Statewide, the trend is down, but the trend is still on the increase in Joplin. At least that was the case at the end of last week.
“It could mean the flu arrived late to this part of the state.’’
Even though the number of flu cases is trending downward in Missouri, it and 46 other states are reporting widespread geographic influenza activity. Only Tennessee and Georgia are reporting regional activity.
At Mercy Hospital Joplin, Judy Russell, a nurse practitioner in the emergency department, said, “We are not tapering quite yet. We’re sitting at a plateau at this point with what we have been seeing.’’
Once the flu has reached this level of activity in Joplin, it usually takes about four weeks before it starts to taper off, Russell said.
Karen Watts, infection control officer with Freeman Health System, said, “The number of flu patients receiving care at Freeman Health System continues to rise.’’
Last week at Freeman, 44 patients were confirmed with influenza A, an increase from 37 the week before, while 34 patients were diagnosed with influenza B, as compared to 28 who tested positive the week before.
“The community should keep in mind those numbers reflect only the patients who seek medical care for the flu; many more do not request medical testing or treatment for their symptoms,’’ she said.
So far, the highest population infected with the flu virus locally are those age 5 to 14 followed by those age 25 to 49. Of all hospitalizations, approximately 50 percent were among those age 65 and older, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The flu claims about 40,000 lives annually in the United States.
Since the start of the season, influenza A viruses have predominated nationally, followed by influenza B viruses, while 2009 H1N1 viruses have been identified less frequently. Over the course of the season, the predominant circulating virus has varied by state and by region.
Said Watts: “There is no way to predict how long the flu virus will persist this season. Our numbers are still climbing, and it is impossible to know when this season will peak. As long as the flu is present in the community, it is not too late to receive a flu shot.’’
The vaccine against the flu strains that were forecast to predominate this year is 62 percent effective, according to the CDC. That is considered “moderate’’ effectiveness, meaning that almost four in 10 people who receive the vaccine and are exposed to the virus will nevertheless become infected.