Flu season begins minus outbreaks in Kansas

11/9/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — The flu season has started in Kansas, but there are no early indications that it could be worse than in previous years, a state health official said Thursday.

TOPEKA (AP) — The flu season has started in Kansas, but there are no early indications that it could be worse than in previous years, a state health official said Thursday.

The season's first flu cases were reported last week in Sedgwick County, but no widespread outbreaks have been reported so far, said Charlie Hunt, state epidemiologist for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The flu season generally runs from about late October through March, but Hunt noted that "the hard part about it is that flu is unpredictable."

The season generally peaks in February or March, although the 2009 season — which saw a pandemic outbreak of the H1N1 strain — peaked in October.

Hunt recommends that all residents older than 6 months get the flu vaccine, but also take routine precautions such as frequent hand-washing, shielding coughs and staying home from work or school if feeling sick. He noted that colder weather isn't a major factor in how bad a flu season may be.

"Cold, dry air may allow the virus to stay aloft more, but I wouldn't focus on that," he said.

Influenza or pneumonia was a factor in the deaths of last flu season of 1,444 residents in Kansas, up from more than 1,300 the season before, according to KDHE statistics. Influenza and pneumonia was the eighth leading cause of death in Kansas in 2012.

Hunt said increased surveillance across Kansas in recent years has helped health officials track the spread of flu viruses and any changes in the trends. He said the information reported by about 40 sites statewide can help alert providers if the virus is starting to emerge in their region and to expect patients to start seeking treatment.

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