Flu season seems to be starting a little bit earlier this year, according to area health care providers.
Both Wesley Medical Center and Via Christi have seen their first cases of influenza for the season in the past 10 days. So far, all of the cases have been influenza A.
“The No. 1 way to prevent it is the vaccine, particularly this year since we know it’s protective against that strain of the flu,” said Joann Paul, director of quality and infection control for Wesley Medical Center.
At Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, an adult was hospitalized with the H3N2 strain of the virus earlier this week.
“So far, the activity nationally of the flu is low,” said Hewitt Goodpasture, a physician and medical director for infection control and prevention at Via Christi.
“There is an aggressive program out to get everyone to take the vaccine who is six months of age or older.”
Earlier this week, the first laboratory-confirmed case of influenza for the state was announced by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
In the Wichita area, the flu usually peaks at the end of January, unless there’s an unusual strain or pandemic, like a few years ago with H1N1, or swine flu, Goodpasture said.
“If you’re sick for just a few days, it isn’t true influenza,” he said. “People that have really had it will know the difference.”
Health officials say that it’s not too late to receive a flu vaccination.
“There’s no excuse not to have the influenza vaccine unless you have severe allergic reactions, but now there’s a subcutaneous vaccine that avoids issues with interaction and a nasal (spray),” Paul said.
The vaccine is made up of three different strains that are predicted to circulate this year based on what circulated at the end of the last flu season. This year’s vaccine includes two influenza A strains — H3N3 and H1N1 — and an influenza B strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the flu season last year in Kansas, influenza A, H3 strains, made up 79 percent of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases, according to the KDHE. More than 1,300 people died in Kansas during the 2011-12 season from pneumonia or influenza.
Because the H3N2 strain shows a history of drug resistance, Goodpasture said it’s better to be vaccinated instead of catching it and relying on antiviral drugs.
Goodpasture says they encourage people to get immunized in October so their bodies have time to respond before the flu starts to freely circulate in mid-December, but there is still time to get good results.
Although there are some risks with taking the vaccine, those are greatly outweighed by the benefits of not getting the flu, Goodpasture said. Most commonly, people who receive the vaccine may experience tenderness in their arms or fever.
“The risk of getting influenza and getting something dire is much greater than getting the vaccine,” Goodpasture said.
Symptoms of flu include fever, dry cough, exhaustion and muscle aches. If left untreated, it can lead to pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and other complications.
Influenza is spread through droplet transmission, including droplets on the hands and in the air. Health care providers encourage people to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and to practice good hand washing.
If you think you have influenza, you should stay home and seek medical attention if you have difficulty breathing, Paul said.