Local health care providers brace for flu season

It is the season for the sniffles, soar throats, stomach aches and more. Yes, the joys of cold and flu season are multiplying rapidly around the State of Kansas.

The number of of visits for flu like illness spiked to abnormal levels in Kansas during December. In the past two years, about one to two percent of patients visited the doctor for the flu, but in Dec. 2012, the number went up to over five percent. For Wellington and Sumner County, those figures are being illustrated.

"We're scheduling only for acute illness patients right now," said Darla McGovern, Office Manager at the Sumner County Family Care Center. "We've actually gone through and rescheduled our routine patients because we need to have room for the acutely ill."  Around noon on Friday (Jan. 4), the SCFCC had 119 scheduled to come in, on Jan. 8, 114 were on the docket.

"I'd say 65 to 70 percent of those are people with flu-like symptoms," McGovern said. "That's not to say everyone tests positive for the flu." The SCFCC was working short-hnaded last week as a couple of doctors were out sick.

"It's crazy," she said.

"Some of the people that we are seeing with positive influenza did have a flu shot," McGovern added. Determining what goes into each year's flu shot can be compared to forecasting the weather.

"The influenza viruses selected for inclusion in the seasonal flu vaccines are updated each year based on which influenza virus strains are circulating, how they are spreading, and how well current vaccine strains protect against newly identified strains," reads the Centers for Disease Control website. "Currently, 130 national influenza centers in 101 countries conduct year-round surveillance for influenza and study influenza disease trends." As for the increase in flu like symptoms, it could be a number of reasons.

"To me it always spikes up after the holiday season," said Laura Rettig, Director at the Sumner County Health Department and Home Health Agency. "People have traveled, seen different people, been to different places so they've come in contact with different germs." The SCHD put the call out for this year's flu shots in last August.

"I've been out of flu shots for about three weeks, I'm looking into ordering more," Rettig said. "We started doing flu shots in late August, so we had it available and gave it out early. Sometimes it's difficult to find the right vaccine that you like to use." This year's flu symptoms are hitting people of all ages.

"Sudden onset fever, runny nose, cough," McGovern said. "Seems to be mostly younger kids, some adults...it's starting to effect older people more." The advice for anyone with the flu is to hunker in, drink lots of fluids and rest.

"Definitely stay home until you've been fever free for at least 24 hours," McGovern said. "If they come in within the first 48 hours and test positive, we can start them on an anti-viral medication that will possibly help make the symptoms less severe." While the numbers may be up around the State, health providers everywhere are gearing up to fight the flu this time of year.

"You just never know from year to year," McGovern said. "I've been here for 31 years and it's a horse of a different color every year."