Flu season picks up steam

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 23, 2019 12:01 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- So far this year the Centers for Disease Control indicates there have been at least 2.6 million flu cases, 23,000 hospitalizations and 1,300 deaths from flu.

And flu season is just shifting into high gear.

"Seasonal influenza activity in the United States has been elevated for five weeks and continues to increase," the CDC website warned this week.

A nationwide map shows that Missouri has a moderate rate of influenza or influenza-like illnesses. However, many surrounding states have higher infection rates and things can change quickly.

"Flu virus is year-round. We usually see activity peak around the start of October and going through February or March," said Dr. Hossein Behniaye who does family practice for adults with the Hannibal Regional Medical Group.

Behniaye has been letting patients know it's not too late to get a flu shot. He said the full or partial immunity not only protects the person who gets vaccinated, it also helps protect others who can't be vaccinated.

"There are those individuals who, for one medical reason or another, cannot get a vaccination," Behniaye said.

Children under six months of age cannot get the vaccine. In some cases people with diabetes, heart ailments or weakened immune systems also are not supposed to get the shots. And those newborns or weakened adults face grave health risks if they're infected.

"I tell people it's like a bison herd" that huddles together during danger, Behniaye said. The strongest of the bison stay on the outside edges of a herd and protect the weaker, younger bison.

Behniaye said healthy adults and children who get vaccinated against the flu can help protect those they come in contact with.

"Newborns can't get vaccinated, but if their parents and other children in the house will get vaccinated, they decrease the chance of that newborn contracting influenza," Behniaye said.

Missouri health officials said three Missourians have died from the flu this fall. Data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' most recent surveillance report show officials verified 264 new cases of influenza through laboratory testing.

Typical symptoms of the flu include fever, sore throat, aches, chills and sweats and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The CDC reports that influenza cases at this time are most prevalent in states that ring the South and West and along coastlines.

One oddity this year involves the type of flu virus creating the most illnesses. The influenza B/Victoria viruses are more active, which is unusual for this time of year. Influenza A/H1N1 viruses are next in frequency, but are becoming more common.

Behniaye said he does not want to cause undue fear about influenza, but doesn't want to under-emphasize the health benefits of vaccinations.