Influenza is continuing to spread across the state of Missouri, with 775 lab-tested cases as of Dec. 21 and seven flu-related pediatric deaths.
On Dec. 21, Leighya M. DeLong, 9, from Hiawatha, Kansas, was diagnosed with the flu while visiting family in Nebraska. She was sent home from the hospital, but after her symptoms worsened the next day, she returned and died there.
Connie Werner, clinic supervisor for the St. Joseph Health Department, said people don’t typically take the flu seriously until they see the face of someone taken from it.
“Now there’s this picture of this little person who was here one day and is now not here and now it’s not a statistic, it’s not a number, it’s a human being,” Werner said.
Dr. Cynthia Brownfield with Mosaic Life Care said it’s one of those cases that people write off until it hits close to home.
“We always think that 150 deaths of children every year from the flu doesn’t seem like a lot, but it hits home when it’s your child,” Brownfield said.
Brownfield wants people to continue getting the flu vaccine even if they think they’ve already had the illness.
“The vaccine protects against four different strains of the flu, so if you’ve already had a documented flu case you can still get the flu, just another strain,” Brownfield said.
Brownfield said the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, but it can help keep cases of the flu more mild and keep a person out of the hospital.
Even though there have been a high amount of reported influenza illnesses, Werner said Missouri has yet to see the worst of it.
“We are behind other states at how bad it is with most of them being widespread and we’re still regional, which means it’s only going to get worse for us,” Werner said.
Werner said the age range the flu has hit the most is 15 to 24, with ages 5 to 14 getting hit the worst right now in the St. Joseph area.
The vaccines each year have both Type A and B protection, but this year the type showing up the most is Type B.
Werner said the majority of people getting the flu have healthy enough immune systems to fight off the virus and get better after a week. However, there are certain signs to look out for to know it’s getting out of hand.
“If you see somebody that’s having trouble breathing, having loss of consciousness, mental status is changing and they’re blue around the mouth or fingers, it’s getting more than you can handle at home and they need to go to the hospital,” Werner said.
Werner said it’s important for people to remember to not only protect themselves, but also those around them by being smart, clean and staying home while sick.
“We always tell people to wash their hands, but if people were doing it correctly the amount of diseases would drop significantly,” Werner said.
The current flu vaccine will be effective until its expiration in June and is highly encouraged to help protect against the illness, along with keeping up on healthy habits of cleanliness.