Flu season is upon Eastern Jackson County once again, and this year it’s hitting an unlikely demographic.
According to Ellen Dorshow-Gordon, an epidemiologist at Jackson County Health Department, there has been a slight increase of flu cases this winter, especially with the 25-49 age range.
“Compiled by reports sent to us by area clinics and hospitals, there has been a 5 to 6 percent increase in reported influenza cases so far this year,” she said.
Dorshow-Gordon said that flu seasons begin at various times, depending on when the number of reported cases peak.
“Flu seasons are unpredictable, and this year it started late. However, we are seeing an increase.”
But why the increase in reported flu cases this season despite many people getting their flu shots?
“It gets complicated,” said Dorshow-Gordon. “Each year, WHO (World Health Organization) forms a committee that looks at parts of the country, even the entire northern hemisphere, to anticipate the impending flu season. Their research and findings determine what strain vaccines will prevent.”
She said most vaccines protect against two to three strains; although there are quadrivalent vaccines available, meaning they are capable of protecting against four strains of influenza types A and B. However, the Centers for Disease Control’s website says most vaccines issued at either pharmacies or doctor offices are trivalent, covering three influenza strains. Overall, it really depends on what specific strain(s) spreads the most during the season.
The influenza B-type virus is a lot milder this year compared to others, said Dorshow-Gordon, but there has been an equal amount of both influenza A and B cases reported. These two types are what cause the seasonal epidemics, according to the CDC website.
What is also unique this season is the kinds of people contracting the flu. Dorshow-Gordon said the most reported cases this season are in the 25-49 age range instead of the usual young children or elderly groups.
“This isn’t just local. CDC is saying the same thing.”
So why is this age demographic appearing to be targeted this year?
“They think they’re invincible,” said Dorshow-Gordon. “People need to get vaccinated and there is still time to do so.” She said that young women who are pregnant are especially encouraged to receieve a flu shot.
One non-vaccine alternative she mentioned is cough hygiene. “People need to cough directly in a tissue rather than into their hands. The virus spreads whenever an infected person touches something.” She adds good hand-washing is also a great source of prevention.
“And another way to combat the flu is exercise,” said Larry Jones from the Independence Health Department. “Find any opportunity to move this winter, whether going up and down your staircase, parking your car ... far away from a store and walking down the hallway during work.”
Both health experts say if you happen to get stricken with the flu, you need to stay home to prevent it from spreading to others.
“It’s not too late to get vaccinated,” said Jones. Dorshow-Gordon and Jones both said it is still the best way to prevent the flu.