Here’s what to know about the ongoing flu season:
How bad is it?
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the flu is widespread in every state but Hawaii. There is some indication that it might have peaked. Missouri reported more than 8,000 lab-positive cases in the week that ended Jan. 13.
The Jackson County Health Department, which covers the county outside Independence and Kansas City, reports 1,604 cases so far this season through Jan. 13, compared with 575 at the same point last year.
Independence reports 519 cases in the same period, compared with 175 last year. Eighty percent of the cases have been Type A flu.
In both Independence and Jackson County, the peak last year was higher than what’s been seen so far this year, but that peak came in mid- to late February.
That’s the pattern nationally, too. Many flu seasons don't really get going until around Christmas and don't crescendo until February. That's how last year's flu season played out. This season got off to an early start and cases surged over the holidays. The CDC estimates there are tens of thousands of deaths each year from flu and pneumonia.
What can I do?
Health officials stress the value of an annual flu shot – even at this point in the winter – in preventing or greatly lessening the effects of the flu. Keeping yourself free of the flu also helps control its spread overall. Anyone over the age of 6 months can get a flu shot.
Health officials say this year's shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, primarily H3N2. How well it is working won't be known until next month, but it's expected to be better than the 10 percent Australia reported – a figure that has grabbed much attention and appears to have caused the perception among some that this year’s vaccine missed the mark.
Also, practice good hand-washing – warm water and soap, take 20 seconds, and be thorough from fingertips to wrists. If you feel under the weather and possibly infective, limit your contact with others as much as you can. Take a sick day.
Stay home, or ER?
Health officials say most people recover at home. But they also say if you’re very sick or pregnant or have a medical condition that might contribute to complications, then call your doctor or go to a clinic or urgent-care center.
Metro area health departments recently released a statement about “‘warning signs’ that signal when a person should seek immediate medical care at a healthcare facility: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, dizziness/confusion, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen and not waking up or interacting.”
How do I treat this?
Flu symptoms – sore throat, fever, fatigue, stuffy nose, muscle or body aches – tend to come on quickly and pass in a few days to two weeks. They usually can be treated at home with over-the-counter products containing ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or with anti-virals, which have to be prescribed by a doctor.
Suggestions for treatment at home include giving the sick person her own room and, if possible, own bathroom. The sick person should have her own drinking glass, washcloth and towels. Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Don’t give aspirin or products with aspirin to anyone under 18.
Don’t spread it
Health officials say to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (unless to need to step out for medical care or other necessities). While sick, limit your contact with others. When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, and then throw that tissue away. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Clean and disinfect surfaces that might have germs. Also, keep the air humidity at home between 40 and 60 percent to make it tougher for viruses to survive and spread.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.