CATEGORY: HTH Health
Flu now considered widespread across state
By Marty Russell
The peak flu season has just begun and already the contagion in Mississippi has reached a level surpassing that of last year, state Department of Health officials have determined.
Cases of an A-strain influenza, which first appeared in Tupelo and Okolona in early December, have now been reported from Corinth to the Gulf Coast, according to Health Department spokesman Mike Bowling.
“It spread out from there,” Bowling said of the first cases in Northeast Mississippi. “We’ve got confirmed cases in Starkville, Greenwood and a couple of other places. … It’s confirmed from Corinth to just above Jackson and all the places south of there the doctors are reporting flu-like illnesses.”
While not yet considered at the epidemic level, Bowling said state epidemiologists have designated it as widespread.
“That means we can confirm the flu in counties that hold half the state’s population,” he said. “Last year we never got to the widespread level.”
The good news is that the flu shots administered this year work on A strains of flu. Bowling said, while the state still is awaiting the results of tests to determine the subtype of the strain found here, nationally the most common strain this season has been the AH1N1 type.
“That’s the most widespread and it’s similar to the A-Texas strain, which the vaccine protects against,” he said.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot, but Bowling said time may be running out. The flu season starts in early fall and runs through March with January through March being the peak periods.
“It’s just kicking into high gear,” Bowling said.
Flu shots still are available at county health departments for $6 and arrangements can be made for those unable to pay. Medicare will cover the costs for eligible recipients but they must bring their Medicare and Social Security numbers.
Flu vaccines are made from inactive viruses and cannot cause the flu but people with allergies to eggs or who have illnesses accompanied by fever or who are pregnant should consult a physician before getting the vaccine.
People the state recommends should get the flu shot are those 65 or older, residents of nursing homes or chronic-care facilities, those with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disease including children with asthma, and people with chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes or forms of immunosuppression.
Others at risk include health care workers, emergency workers, school employees, travelers to the tropics and household members of those with high risks for contracting the illness.