Flu cases increase as supply of vaccine low locally

Friday, December 5, 2003

There's no point in telling Linda Stephens of Scott City the flu season will be harsh this year.

"We've all got the flu around here," Stephens said on Thursday after testing positive for influenza. "My daughters, the grandkids -- coughing, headaches, sore throat, you name it, we've got it."

In fact, Stephens' 1-year-old granddaughter has been hospitalized since Tuesday with influenza that since has transformed to pneumonia.

"They're thinking about taking her to St. Louis," Stephens said between sniffles. "The doctor said it was the worst case of the flu he'd ever seen."

Highlighted by severe outbreaks in Colorado and Arizona, 40 states have confirmed cases of influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year at this time, only nine states had confirmed cases.

In Missouri, there have been 916 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning, up from 15 during the same time last year, according to Libby Landrum, influenza coordinator for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

In Cape Girardeau County, there were 14 confirmed cases as of Monday, according to the Public Health Center. In all of December last year, there was only one confirmed case of the flu, though health officials said part of the increase likely comes from better reporting of the illness.

It's hit Central High School especially hard, said school nurse Jeanne Heise.

"This year's been our worst year since I've been here in 24 years," she said. "We've had some really sick kids, and it's taking a lot longer to get over it."

Dr. Theodore Grieshop, a infectious disease specialist based in Cape Girardeau, is noticing the impact.

"And this seems to be here earlier," Grieshop said. "The worst year we had was 1998 around Christmas. Otherwise, the last several years, we usually start seeing it more in January."

Health-care officials said for those who haven't gotten the flu yet, it's not too late to get a flu vaccination. This year's vaccine formula doesn't exactly match the flu virus now circulating, but the vaccine will still help prevent the flu and mitigate its complications.

Finding a flu shot locally might be difficult. The county ran out of vaccinations weeks ago. Immediate HealthCare, a walk-in clinic, ran out Wednesday night, though it still has some of the new flu mist for inhaling left. MedStop One is out. Some private family practice physicians still have some in stock.

"We went through 700 shots," said Dennis Long, a family practice nurse at Immediate Health Care. "We're seeing a lot of stomach flu, more than anything else. There's no way to predict how bad it's going to get."

But Libby Landrum of the state health department said it's important that people call around and look for it.

"Many offices are going to reorder the vaccine," she said. "Some of them will probably have some next week."

She recommends those who have already gotten the flu to get bed rest, drink lots of fluids and take over-the-counter medicines to treat the symptoms.

It's advice that Linda Stephens, the woman with the whole family of flu suffers, says they're all taking.

"And we're definitely getting the flu shot next year," she said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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