JOPLIN, Mo. —
Both locally and around the country, the flu is on the march. Area hospitals and clinics are reporting increasing numbers of patients with some variant of the flu — including swine flu — and some local patients have ended up in intensive care.
Half of all states, including Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, are now reporting widespread levels of flu activity. Flu deaths — even among young and middle-aged adults — also have been reported in many states, including Missouri and Oklahoma.
In mid-December, only six states reported widespread flu outbreaks.
Health officials attribute many of the illnesses to the H1N1 strain (sometimes called swine flu) responsible for a widespread outbreak in the United States in 2009-10.
In a four-state region (Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska) looked at by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 529 of the 626 cases were reported to be of the 2009 H1N1 strain.
Medical professionals at Freemen Health System and Mercy Hospital Joplin both say that while they are seeing an upswing in flu cases, there is good news, the flu shot is effective against the strain of flu currently being detected.
“It’s not too late; people who haven’t yet should get a flu shot,” Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, said last week.
Young adults hit
Freeman workers in the last week have treated 90 cases of the flu at their hospital and other sites, said Karen Watts, who heads infection control for the hospital system.
“What’s concerning about the flu season this year, with most cases being attributed to H1N1, is that seemingly healthy young adults are succumbing to complications and having to be hospitalized,” Watts said. “We expect it among the young and older people and those with weakened immune systems, but this year, it’s affecting the younger adult.”
At Mercy Hospital Joplin, workers are seeing about 10 or more flu cases each day, according to Thad Taylor, an emergency room nurse-practitioner. He said common symptoms have included fever, body aches and chills, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
“If we get them within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, we can put them on an anti-viral. If it has been longer than that, it doesn’t help,” he said.
The Jasper County Health Department has received reports on 69 cases of flu this season, with about twice that reported to the Joplin department, said Tony Moehr, director of the Jasper County Health Department.
”It’s affecting primarily people in the 25-49 (year) age group. It’s predominately Type A (H1N1 is a strain),” he said.
Before this week, Missouri was one of the few states in the Midwest where flu incidence was not considered widespread, though it was surrounded by states where the infection was advancing quickly. Missouri was added to the “widespread” category Friday by the CDC.
According to information released by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 6,748 cases of the flu have been reported so far in the 2013/14 season. A total of 1,582 flu cases were reported for the week ending Jan. 4. Seven specimens were sent to the State Public Health Laboratory for viral testing and all determined to be the H1N1 group predominant during the 2009-10 pandemic. But health officials said many of the remaining cases were never tested for the strain.
Pekarek said the flu season is earlier than normal though not as early as last year.
“We don’t know when it will peak. We had a small peak earlier and it may go up again when school starts back,” he added.
Globe staff writer Wally Kennedy contributed to this story.
Although the flu generally does not cause death in otherwise healthy people, more than 30,000 premature deaths each year in the United States are attributed to influenza, mostly in older adults, the very young or those prone to complications due to prior illness or weakened immune systems.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
•Fever, sometimes high (not everyone with the flu will have a fever, but most do.)
• Runny nose/stuffiness
• Sore throat
• Muscle aches and fatigue.
• Sometimes vomiting and/or diarrhea
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services